Publication: Linear multi-modal actuation through discrete coupling
Due to technological limitations robot actuators are often designed for specific tasks with narrow performance goals, whereas a wide range of output and behaviours is necessary for robots to operate autonomously in uncertain complex environments. We present a design framework that employs dynamic couplings in the form of brakes and clutches to increase the performance and diversity of linear actuators. The couplings are used to switch between a diverse range of discrete modes of operation within a single actuator. We also provide a design solution for miniaturized couplings that use dry friction to produce rapid switching and high braking forces. The couplings are designed so that once engaged or disengaged no extra energy is consumed. We apply the design framework and coupling design to a linear series elastic actuator (SEA) and show that this relatively simple implementation increases the performance and adds new behaviours to the standard design. Through a number of performance tests we are able to show rapid switching between a high and a low impedance output mode; that the actuator’s spring can be charged to produce short bursts of high output power; and that the actuator has additional passive and rigid modes that consume no power once activated. Robots using actuators from this design framework would see a vast increase in their behavioural diversity and improvements in their performance not yet possible with conventional actuator design.