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J. Mechanisms Robotics. 2018;10(4):041001-041001-14. doi:10.1115/1.4039500.

This paper presents the novel design of a bioinspired robot capable of generating spatial loading relative to its base. By looking to nature at how animals utilize their tails, a bioinspired structure is developed that utilizes a redundant serial chain of rigid links to mimic the continuous deformation of a biological tail. Individual links are connected by universal joints to enable a spatial robot workspace capable of generating spatial loading comprised of pitch, yaw, and roll direction contributions. Two sets of three cables are used to create two actuated segments along the robot. A dynamic model of the robot is derived using prescribed cable displacement trajectories as inputs to determine the resulting joint angle trajectories and cable tensions. Sensors are integrated on-board the robot to calculate joint angles and joint velocities in real-time for use in feedback control. The loading capabilities of the robot are analyzed, and an experimental prototype is integrated and demonstrated.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
J. Mechanisms Robotics. 2018;10(4):041003-041003-12. doi:10.1115/1.4039001.

Multifingered hands have the capability of dexterous manipulation of grasped objects and thus significantly increase the capabilities of a robot equipped with multifingered hands. Inspired by a multijointed human finger and the hand, we propose a six degree-of-freedom (DOF) model of a three-fingered robotic hand as a parallel manipulator. Two kinds of contact, namely point contact with friction and rolling without slipping between the fingertips and the grasped object, are considered. The point contact with friction is modeled as a three DOF spherical joint, and for rolling without slipping, we use the resultant nonholonomic constraints between the grasped object and the fingers. With realistic limits on the joints in the fingers and dimensions of finger segments, we obtain the well-conditioned manipulation workspace of the parallel manipulator using a Monte Carlo-based method. Additionally, we present two new general results—it is shown that maximum position and orientation workspace is obtained when the cross-sectional area of the grasped object is approximately equal to the area of the palm of the hand and when rolling without slipping is ensured the size of the well-conditioned workspace is significantly larger (1.21.5 times). We also present representative experiments of manipulation by a human hand and show that the experimental results are in reasonable agreement with those obtained from simulations.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
J. Mechanisms Robotics. 2018;10(4):041004-041004-13. doi:10.1115/1.4039399.

This paper addresses the passive realization of any selected planar elastic behavior with redundant elastic manipulators. The class of manipulators considered are either serial mechanisms having four compliant joints or parallel mechanisms having four springs. Sets of necessary and sufficient conditions for mechanisms in this class to passively realize an elastic behavior are presented. The conditions are interpreted in terms of mechanism geometry. Similar conditions for nonredundant cases are highly restrictive. Redundancy yields a significantly larger space of realizable elastic behaviors. Construction-based synthesis procedures for planar elastic behaviors are also developed. In each, the selection of the mechanism geometry and the selection of joint/spring stiffnesses are completely decoupled. The procedures require that the geometry of each elastic component be selected from a restricted space of acceptable candidates.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
J. Mechanisms Robotics. 2018;10(4):041005-041005-10. doi:10.1115/1.4039773.

Miniature robots have many applications ranging from military surveillance to search and rescue in disaster areas. Nevertheless, the fabrication of such robots has traditionally been labor-intensive and time-consuming. This paper proposes to directly leverage multimaterial 3D printing (MM3P) to fabricate centimeter-scale robots by utilizing soft materials to create not only soft joints to replace revolute joints but also soft links to replace rigid links. We demonstrate the capability of MM3P by creating a miniature, four-legged walking robot. Moreover, we leverage a three-spring rotational-prismatic-rotational (RPR) model to approximate the motion of soft joints or links, which is further utilized to numerically predict the motion of the leg mechanism with multiple soft joints and links. The accuracy of the proposed numerical method is validated with experimental results, and outperforms the results from using a psuedorigid-body (PRB) 1R model to approximate the motion of soft joints/links of the same mechanism. Meanwhile, a functional walking robot actuated by a single DC motor is demonstrated with a locomotion speed of 5.7 cm/s. We envision that the concept of employing both soft joints and links will inspire the design and realization of novel miniature mechanisms for a wide range of applications including robotics, deployable structures, or mechanical metamaterials. The proposed numerical method can also be readily applied to analyze other mechanisms with soft joints and links.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
J. Mechanisms Robotics. 2018;10(4):041006-041006-12. doi:10.1115/1.4039771.

Multi-objective optimization of a typical parallel tracking mechanism considering parameter uncertainty is carried out in this paper. Both dimensional and sectional parameters are regarded as design variables. Workspace, kinematic, stiffness, and dynamic performances are simultaneously considered in formulating optimal objectives and constraint conditions. Considering manufacturing and assembling errors, parameter uncertainty is modeled and evaluated to minimize their effects on the optimized performances. Analytical models between objectives and design variables are established to improve the efficiency of optimization while its accuracy is assured. The study of parameter uncertainty and analytical mapping model is incorporated in the optimization of the parallel tracking mechanism. With the aid of particle swarm algorithm, a cluster of solutions, called Pareto frontier, are obtained. By proposing an index, a cooperative equilibrium point representing the balance among objectives is selected and the optimized parameters are determined. The present study is expected to help designers build optimized parallel tracking mechanism in an effective and efficient manner.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
J. Mechanisms Robotics. 2018;10(4):041007-041007-10. doi:10.1115/1.4039854.

This paper addresses the issue of controller complexity for multirotor aerial manipulator (AM) implementation by utilizing a special class of fully actuated hexrotor within the framework of a firmware, which allows standard multirotor actuation modes. Using this platform, manipulator and vehicle dynamics are decoupled, making the airframe inherently more robust than standard multirotor for trajectory tracking in AM applications. Furthermore, its unique design allows for the implementation of modular control strategies. The proposed rotor orientation model makes it possible to decouple the dynamics, allowing full analytical development of the optimal solution. A methodology for analysis, control allocation, and design of this special class of hexrotor is presented, and the implementation of a custom flight stack is demonstrated using a hexrotor prototype in closed-loop flight testing. The flight stack developed is compliant with the open-source ArduPilot Mega (APM) firmware, allowing it to take advantage of all generic multirotor control algorithms. Experimental results are presented to demonstrate feasibility of the system.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster

Design Innovation Paper

J. Mechanisms Robotics. 2018;10(4):045001-045001-8. doi:10.1115/1.4039693.

This paper presents a new parallel robot with an integrated gripper. The grasping capability of the robot is obtained by a foldable platform that can be fully controlled by actuators located on the base of the seven degrees-of-freedom (DoF) parallel structure. This mechanism combines three key specificities in robotics which are compactness, rigidity, and high blocking forces. The paper presents the new structure, its kinematic modeling, and an analysis of its workspace and grasping force capabilities. In addition, a prototype is presented and tested in manipulation and insertion operations, which validates the proposed concept.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster

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