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In order for assistive mobile robots to operate in the same environment as humans, they must be able to navigate the same obstacles as humans do. Many elements are required to do this: a powerful controller which can understand the obstacle, and power-dense actuators which will be able to achieve the necessary limb accelerations and output energies. Rapid growth in information technology has made complex controllers, and the devices which run them considerably light and cheap. The energy density of batteries, motors, and engines has not grown nearly as fast. This is problematic because biological systems are more agile, and more efficient than robotic systems. This dissertation introduces design methods which may be used optimize a multiactuator robotic limb's natural dynamics in an effort to reduce energy waste. These energy savings decrease the robot's cost of transport, and the weight of the required fuel storage system. To achieve this, an optimal design method, which allows the specialization of robot geometry, is introduced. In addition to optimal geometry design, a gearing optimization is presented which selects a gear ratio which minimizes the electrical power at the motor while considering the constraints of the motor. Furthermore, an efficient algorithm for the optimization of parallel stiffness elements in the robot is introduced. In addition to the optimal design tools introduced, the KiTy SP robotic limb structure is also presented. Which is a novel hybrid parallel-serial actuation method. This novel leg structure has many desirable attributes such as: three dimensional end-effector positioning, low mobile mass, compact form-factor, and a large workspace. We also show that the KiTy SP structure outperforms the classical, biologically-inspired serial limb structure.
For the past two decades, advanced Limb Gait Simulators and Exoskeletons have been developed to improve walking rehabilitation. A Limb Gait Simulator is used to analyze the human step cycle and/or assist a user walking on a treadmill. Most modern limb gait simulators, such as ALEX, have proven themselves effective and reliable through their usage of motors, springs, cables, elastics, pneumatics and reaction loads. These mechanisms apply internal forces and reaction loads to the body. On the other hand, external forces are those caused by an external agent outside the system such as air, water, or magnets. A design for an exoskeleton using external forces has seldom been attempted by researchers. This thesis project focuses on the development of a Limb Gait Simulator based on a Pure External Force and has proven its effectiveness in generating torque on the human leg. The external force is generated through air propulsion using an Electric Ducted Fan (EDF) motor. Such a motor is typically used for remote control airplanes, but their applications can go beyond this. The objective of this research is to generate torque on the human leg through the control of the EDF engines thrust and the opening/closing of the reverse thruster flaps. This device qualifies as "assist as needed"; the user is entirely in control of how much assistance he or she may want. Static thrust values for the EDF engine are recorded using a thrust test stand. The product of the thrust (N) and the distance on the thigh (m) is the resulting torque. With the motor running at maximum RPM, the highest torque value reached was that of 3.93 (Nm). The motor EDF motor is powered by a 6S 5000 mAh LiPo battery. This torque value could be increased with the usage of a second battery connected in series, but this comes at a price. The designed limb gait simulator demonstrates that external forces, such as air, could have potential in the development of future rehabilitation devices.
Many industries require workers in warehouse and stockroom environments to perform frequent lifting tasks. Over time these repeated tasks can lead to excess strain on the worker's body and reduced productivity. This project seeks to develop an exoskeletal wrist fixture to be used in conjunction with a powered exoskeleton arm to aid workers performing box lifting types of tasks. Existing products aimed at improving worker comfort and productivity typically employ either fully powered exoskeleton suits or utilize minimally powered spring arms and/or fixtures. These designs either reduce stress to the user's body through powered arms and grippers operated via handheld controls which have limited functionality, or they use a more minimal setup that reduces some load, but exposes the user's hands and wrists to injury by directing support to the forearm. The design proposed here seeks to strike a balance between size, weight, and power requirements and also proposes a novel wrist exoskeleton design which minimizes stress on the user's wrists by directly interfacing with the object to be picked up. The design of the wrist exoskeleton was approached through initially selecting degrees of freedom and a ROM (range of motion) to accommodate. Feel and functionality were improved through an iterative prototyping process which yielded two primary designs. A novel "clip-in" method was proposed to allow the user to easily attach and detach from the exoskeleton. Designs utilized a contact surface intended to be used with dry fibrillary adhesives to maximize exoskeleton grip. Two final designs, which used two pivots in opposite kinematic order, were constructed and tested to determine the best kinematic layout. The best design had two prototypes created to be worn with passive test arms that attached to the user though a specially designed belt.