Control of Bio-Inspired Sprawling Posture Quadruped Robots with an Actuated Spine

Sprawling posture robots are characterized by upper limb segments protruding horizontally from the body, resulting in lower body height and wider support on the ground. Combined with an actuated segmented spine and tail, such morphology resembles that of salamanders or crocodiles. Although bio-inspired salamander-like robots with simple rotational limbs have been created, not much research has been done on kinematically redundant bio-mimetic robots that can closely replicate kinematics of sprawling animal gaits. Being bio-mimetic could allow a robot to have some of the locomotion skills observed in those animals, expanding its potential applications in challenging scenarios. At the same time, the robot could be used to answer questions about the animal's locomotion. This thesis is focused on developing locomotion controllers for such robots. Due to their high number of degrees of freedom (DoF), the control is based on solving the limb and spine inverse kinematics to properly coordinate different body parts. It is demonstrated how active use of a spine improves the robot's walking and turning performance. Further performance improvement across a variety of gaits is achieved by using model predictive control (MPC) methods to dictate the motion of the robot's center of mass (CoM). The locomotion controller is reused on an another robot (OroBOT) with similar morphology, designed to mimic the kinematics of a fossil belonging to Orobates, an extinct early tetrapod. Being capable of generating different gaits and quantitatively measuring their characteristics, OroBOT was used to find the most probable way the animal moved. This is useful because understanding locomotion of extinct vertebrates helps to conceptualize major transitions in their evolution. To tackle field applications, e.g. in disaster response missions, a new generation of field-oriented sprawling posture robots was built. The robustness of their initial crocodile-inspired design was tested in the animal's natural habitat (Uganda, Africa) and subsequently enhanced with additional sensors, cameras and computer. The improvements to the software framework involved a smartphone user interface visualizing the robot's state and camera feed to improve the ease of use for the operator. Using force sensors, the locomotion controller is expanded with a set of reflex control modules. It is demonstrated how these modules improve the robot's performance on rough and unstructured terrain. The robot's design and its low profile allow it to traverse low passages. To also tackle narrow passages like pipes, an unconventional crawling gait is explored. While using it, the robot lies on the ground and pushes against the pipe walls to move the body. To achieve such a task, several new control and estimation modules were developed. By exploring these problems, this thesis illustrates fruitful interactions that can take place between robotics, biology and paleontology.

Ijspeert, Auke
Lausanne, EPFL

 Record created 2018-07-27, last modified 2019-06-19

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