Biomechatronics | Series-Elastic Actuation
Massachusetts institute of technology, MIT, MIT Media Lab, robotics, prosthetics, prostheses, exoskeletons, orthoses, orthosis, science, engineering, biomechanics, mechatronics,

Series-Elastic Actuation


The Biomechatronics Group uses biologically inspired actuator design to create robust and efficient performance.  This technology is implemented in many of the bionic devices produced by our group.


Continuously Variable Series-Elastic Actuator

Actuator efficiency is an important factor in design of powered legged robots. A continuously variable series-elastic actuator (CV-SEA) is presented as an efficient actuator for legged locomotion. The CV-SEA implements a continuously variable transmission (CVT) between a motor and series elastic element. The CVT reduces the torque seen at the motor, allowing the motor to operate in speed regimes of higher efficiency, while the series-elastic element efficiently stores and releases mechanical energy, reducing motor work requirements for actuator applications where an elastic response is sought. An energy-efficient control strategy for the CV-SEA was developed using a Monte-Carlo minimization method that generates and converges on transmission profiles that minimize electrical energy consumption. The CV-SEA is compared to a standard SEA and an infinitely variable series elastic actuator (IV-SEA). Simulations suggest that a CV-SEA will require less energy that an SEA or IV-SEA when used in a knee prosthesis during level-ground walking.

L. M. Mooney and H. M. Herr
Continuously-Variable Series-Elastic Actuator,
Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics, 2013


A clutchable series-elastic actuator: design of a robotic knee prosthesis for minimum energy consumption

The cyclic and often linear torque-angle relationship of locomotion presents the opportunity to innovate on the design of traditional series-elastic actuators (SEAs). In this paper, a novel modification to the SEA architecture was proposed by adding a clutch in parallel with the motor within the SEA—denoted as a CSEA. This addition permits bimodal dynamics where the system is characterized by an SEA when the clutch is disengaged and a passive spring when the clutch is engaged. The purpose of the parallel clutch was to provide the ability to store energy in a tuned series spring, while requiring only reactionary torque from the clutch. Thus, when the clutch is engaged, a tuned elastic relationship can be achieved with minimal electrical energy consumption. The state-based model of the CSEA is introduced and the implementation of the CSEA mechanism in a powered knee prosthesis is detailed. The series elasticity was optimized to fit the spring-like torque-angle relationship of early stance phase knee flexion and extension during level ground walking. In simulation, the CSEA knee required 70% less electrical energy than a traditional SEA. Future work will focus on the mechanical implementation of the CSEA knee and an empirical demonstration of reduced electrical energy consumption during walking.

E. J. Rouse, L. M. Mooney, E. C. Martinez-Villalpando and H. M. Herr
A clutchable series-elastic actuator: design of a robotic knee prosthesis for minimum energy consumption
ICORR, 2013


Series-Elastic Actuator Theory

Evidence from biomechanics research suggests that tendon series elasticity allows muscle to act in an optimal range of its force–length and force–velocity curves to achieve work and power amplification. In this investigation we put forth a simple model to quantify the capacity of series elasticity to increase work and power output from an actuator. We show that an appropriate spring constant increases the energy that an actuator can deliver to a mass by a factor of 4. The series elasticity changes the actuator operating point along its force–velocity curve and therefore affects the actuator work output over a fixed stroke length. In addition, the model predicts that a series spring can store energy and deliver peak powers greater than the power limit of the source by a factor of 1.4. Preliminary experiments are performed to test model predictions. We find qualitative agreement between the model and experimental data, highlighting the importance of series elasticity for actuator work and power amplification across a fixed stroke length. We present several non-dimensional relations that can aid designers in the fabrication of robotic and prosthetic limbs optimized for work and power delivery

D. Paluska and H. M. Herr.
The effect of series elasticity on actuator power and work output: Implications for robotic and prosthetic joint design,
Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 2006.