A design concept of parallel elasticity extracted from biological muscles for engineered actuators.

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Chen, J 
Jin, H 
Zhao, J 

Series elastic actuation that takes inspiration from biological muscle-tendon units has been extensively studied and used to address the challenges (e.g. energy efficiency, robustness) existing in purely stiff robots. However, there also exists another form of passive property in biological actuation, parallel elasticity within muscles themselves, and our knowledge of it is limited: for example, there is still no general design strategy for the elasticity profile. When we look at nature, on the other hand, there seems a universal agreement in biological systems: experimental evidence has suggested that a concave-upward elasticity behaviour is exhibited within the muscles of animals. Seeking to draw possible design clues for elasticity in parallel with actuators, we use a simplified joint model to investigate the mechanisms behind this biologically universal preference of muscles. Actuation of the model is identified from general biological joints and further reduced with a specific focus on muscle elasticity aspects, for the sake of easy implementation. By examining various elasticity scenarios, one without elasticity and three with elasticity of different profiles, we find that parallel elasticity generally exerts contradictory influences on energy efficiency and disturbance rejection, due to the mechanical impedance shift thus caused. The trade-off analysis between them also reveals that concave parallel elasticity is able to achieve a more advantageous balance than linear and convex ones. It is expected that the results could contribute to our further understanding of muscle elasticity and provide a theoretical guideline on how to properly design parallel elasticity behaviours for engineering systems such as artificial actuators and robotic joints.

Animals, Biomechanical Phenomena, Biomimetic Materials, Elastic Modulus, Elasticity, Joints, Models, Biological, Muscle, Skeletal, Robotics, Tendons
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Bioinspiration & Biomimetics
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IOP Publishing
This work was supported in part by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 51105101 and 61473102) and in part by the self-managed project of the State Key Laboratory of Robotics and System in Harbin Institute of Technology (SKLRS200901A01).