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2019


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Hierarchical Task-Parameterized Learning from Demonstration for Collaborative Object Movement

Hu, S., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Applied Bionics and Biomechanics, (9765383), December 2019 (article)

Abstract
Learning from demonstration (LfD) enables a robot to emulate natural human movement instead of merely executing preprogrammed behaviors. This article presents a hierarchical LfD structure of task-parameterized models for object movement tasks, which are ubiquitous in everyday life and could benefit from robotic support. Our approach uses the task-parameterized Gaussian mixture model (TP-GMM) algorithm to encode sets of demonstrations in separate models that each correspond to a different task situation. The robot then maximizes its expected performance in a new situation by either selecting a good existing model or requesting new demonstrations. Compared to a standard implementation that encodes all demonstrations together for all test situations, the proposed approach offers four advantages. First, a simply defined distance function can be used to estimate test performance by calculating the similarity between a test situation and the existing models. Second, the proposed approach can improve generalization, e.g., better satisfying the demonstrated task constraints and speeding up task execution. Third, because the hierarchical structure encodes each demonstrated situation individually, a wider range of task situations can be modeled in the same framework without deteriorating performance. Last, adding or removing demonstrations incurs low computational load, and thus, the robot’s skill library can be built incrementally. We first instantiate the proposed approach in a simulated task to validate these advantages. We then show that the advantages transfer to real hardware for a task where naive participants collaborated with a Willow Garage PR2 robot to move a handheld object. For most tested scenarios, our hierarchical method achieved significantly better task performance and subjective ratings than both a passive model with only gravity compensation and a single TP-GMM encoding all demonstrations.

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DOI [BibTex]


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Low-Hysteresis and Low-Interference Soft Tactile Sensor Using a Conductive Coated Porous Elastomer and a Structure for Interference Reduction

Park, K., Kim, S., Lee, H., Park, I., Kim, J.

Sensors and Actuators A: Physical, 295, pages: 541-550, August 2019 (article)

Abstract
The need for soft whole-body tactile sensors is emerging. Piezoresistive materials are advantageous in terms of making large tactile sensors, but the hysteresis of piezoresistive materials is a major drawback. The hysteresis of a piezoresistive material should be attenuated to make a practical piezoresistive soft tactile sensor. In this paper, we introduce a low-hysteresis and low-interference soft tactile sensor using a conductive coated porous elastomer and a structure to reduce interference (grooves). The developed sensor exhibits low hysteresis because the transduction mechanism of the sensor is dominated by the contact between the conductive coated surface. In a cyclic loading experiment with different loading frequencies, the mechanical and piezoresistive hysteresis values of the sensor are less than 21.7% and 6.8%, respectively. The initial resistance change is found to be within 4% after the first loading cycle. To reduce the interference among the sensing points, we also propose a structure where the grooves are inserted between the adjacent electrodes. This structure is implemented during the molding process, which is adopted to extend the porous tactile sensor to large-scale and facile fabrication. The effects of the structure are investigated with respect to the normalized design parameters ΘD, ΘW, and ΘT in a simulation, and the result is validated for samples with the same design parameters. An indentation experiment also shows that the structure designed for interference reduction effectively attenuates the interference of the sensor array, indicating that the spatial resolution of the sensor array is improved. As a result, the sensor can exhibit low hysteresis and low interference simultaneously. This research can be used for many applications, such as robotic skin, grippers, and wearable devices.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


Learning Variable Impedance Control for Contact Sensitive Tasks
Learning Variable Impedance Control for Contact Sensitive Tasks

Bogdanovic, M., Khadiv, M., Righetti, L.

arXiv preprint, arXiv:1907.07500, July 2019 (article)

Abstract
Reinforcement learning algorithms have shown great success in solving different problems ranging from playing video games to robotics. However, they struggle to solve delicate robotic problems, especially those involving contact interactions. Though in principle a policy outputting joint torques should be able to learn these tasks, in practice we see that they have difficulty to robustly solve the problem without any structure in the action space. In this paper, we investigate how the choice of action space can give robust performance in presence of contact uncertainties. We propose to learn a policy that outputs impedance and desired position in joint space as a function of system states without imposing any other structure to the problem. We compare the performance of this approach to torque and position control policies under different contact uncertainties. Extensive simulation results on two different systems, a hopper (floating-base) with intermittent contacts and a manipulator (fixed-base) wiping a table, show that our proposed approach outperforms policies outputting torque or position in terms of both learning rate and robustness to environment uncertainty.

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[BibTex]


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Physical activity in non-ambulatory toddlers with cerebral palsy

M.Orlando, J., Pierce, S., Mohan, M., Skorup, J., Paremski, A., Bochnak, M., Prosser, L. A.

Research in Developmental Disabilities, 90, pages: 51-58, July 2019 (article)

Abstract
Background: Children with cerebral palsy are less likely to be physically active than their peers, however there is limited evidence regarding self-initiated physical activity in toddlers who are not able, or who may never be able, to walk. Aims: The aim of this study was to measure self-initiated physical activity and its relationship to gross motor function and participation in non-ambulatory toddlers with cerebral palsy. Methods and procedures: Participants were between the ages of 1–3 years. Physical activity during independent floor-play at home was recorded using a wearable tri-axial accelerometer worn on the child’s thigh. The Gross Motor Function Measure-66 and the Child Engagement in Daily Life, a parent-reported questionnaire of participation, were administered. Outcomes and results: Data were analyzed from the twenty participants who recorded at least 90 min of floor-play (mean: 229 min), resulting in 4598 total floor-play minutes. The relationship between physical activity and gross motor function was not statistically significant (r = 0.20; p = 0.39), nor were the relationships between physical activity and participation (r = 0.05−0.09; p = 0.71−0.84). Conclusions and implications: The results suggest physical activity during floor-play is not related to gross motor function or participation in non-ambulatory toddlers with cerebral palsy. Clinicians and researchers should independently measure physical activity, gross motor function, and participation.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


Implementation of a 6-{DOF} Parallel Continuum Manipulator for Delivering Fingertip Tactile Cues
Implementation of a 6-DOF Parallel Continuum Manipulator for Delivering Fingertip Tactile Cues

Young, E. M., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

IEEE Transactions on Haptics, 12(3):295-306, June 2019 (article)

Abstract
Existing fingertip haptic devices can deliver different subsets of tactile cues in a compact package, but we have not yet seen a wearable six-degree-of-freedom (6-DOF) display. This paper presents the Fuppeteer (short for Fingertip Puppeteer), a device that is capable of controlling the position and orientation of a flat platform, such that any combination of normal and shear force can be delivered at any location on any human fingertip. We build on our previous work of designing a parallel continuum manipulator for fingertip haptics by presenting a motorized version in which six flexible Nitinol wires are actuated via independent roller mechanisms and proportional-derivative controllers. We evaluate the settling time and end-effector vibrations observed during system responses to step inputs. After creating a six-dimensional lookup table and adjusting simulated inputs using measured Jacobians, we show that the device can make contact with all parts of the fingertip with a mean error of 1.42 mm. Finally, we present results from a human-subject study. A total of 24 users discerned 9 evenly distributed contact locations with an average accuracy of 80.5%. Translational and rotational shear cues were identified reasonably well near the center of the fingertip and more poorly around the edges.

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DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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How Does It Feel to Clap Hands with a Robot?

Fitter, N. T., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

International Journal of Social Robotics, 12(1):113-127, April 2019 (article)

Abstract
Future robots may need lighthearted physical interaction capabilities to connect with people in meaningful ways. To begin exploring how users perceive playful human–robot hand-to-hand interaction, we conducted a study with 20 participants. Each user played simple hand-clapping games with the Rethink Robotics Baxter Research Robot during a 1-h-long session involving 24 randomly ordered conditions that varied in facial reactivity, physical reactivity, arm stiffness, and clapping tempo. Survey data and experiment recordings demonstrate that this interaction is viable: all users successfully completed the experiment and mentioned enjoying at least one game without prompting. Hand-clapping tempo was highly salient to users, and human-like robot errors were more widely accepted than mechanical errors. Furthermore, perceptions of Baxter varied in the following statistically significant ways: facial reactivity increased the robot’s perceived pleasantness and energeticness; physical reactivity decreased pleasantness, energeticness, and dominance; higher arm stiffness increased safety and decreased dominance; and faster tempo increased energeticness and increased dominance. These findings can motivate and guide roboticists who want to design social–physical human–robot interactions.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]

2018


Softness, Warmth, and Responsiveness Improve Robot Hugs
Softness, Warmth, and Responsiveness Improve Robot Hugs

Block, A. E., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

International Journal of Social Robotics, 11(1):49-64, October 2018 (article)

Abstract
Hugs are one of the first forms of contact and affection humans experience. Due to their prevalence and health benefits, roboticists are naturally interested in having robots one day hug humans as seamlessly as humans hug other humans. This project's purpose is to evaluate human responses to different robot physical characteristics and hugging behaviors. Specifically, we aim to test the hypothesis that a soft, warm, touch-sensitive PR2 humanoid robot can provide humans with satisfying hugs by matching both their hugging pressure and their hugging duration. Thirty relatively young and rather technical participants experienced and evaluated twelve hugs with the robot, divided into three randomly ordered trials that focused on physical robot characteristics (single factor, three levels) and nine randomly ordered trials with low, medium, and high hug pressure and duration (two factors, three levels each). Analysis of the results showed that people significantly prefer soft, warm hugs over hard, cold hugs. Furthermore, users prefer hugs that physically squeeze them and release immediately when they are ready for the hug to end. Taking part in the experiment also significantly increased positive user opinions of robots and robot use.

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link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]

2018


link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Instrumentation, Data, and Algorithms for Visually Understanding Haptic Surface Properties

Burka, A. L.

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, August 2018, Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering (phdthesis)

Abstract
Autonomous robots need to efficiently walk over varied surfaces and grasp diverse objects. We hypothesize that the association between how such surfaces look and how they physically feel during contact can be learned from a database of matched haptic and visual data recorded from various end-effectors' interactions with hundreds of real-world surfaces. Testing this hypothesis required the creation of a new multimodal sensing apparatus, the collection of a large multimodal dataset, and development of a machine-learning pipeline. This thesis begins by describing the design and construction of the Portable Robotic Optical/Tactile ObservatioN PACKage (PROTONPACK, or Proton for short), an untethered handheld sensing device that emulates the capabilities of the human senses of vision and touch. Its sensory modalities include RGBD vision, egomotion, contact force, and contact vibration. Three interchangeable end-effectors (a steel tooling ball, an OptoForce three-axis force sensor, and a SynTouch BioTac artificial fingertip) allow for different material properties at the contact point and provide additional tactile data. We then detail the calibration process for the motion and force sensing systems, as well as several proof-of-concept surface discrimination experiments that demonstrate the reliability of the device and the utility of the data it collects. This thesis then presents a large-scale dataset of multimodal surface interaction recordings, including 357 unique surfaces such as furniture, fabrics, outdoor fixtures, and items from several private and public material sample collections. Each surface was touched with one, two, or three end-effectors, comprising approximately one minute per end-effector of tapping and dragging at various forces and speeds. We hope that the larger community of robotics researchers will find broad applications for the published dataset. Lastly, we demonstrate an algorithm that learns to estimate haptic surface properties given visual input. Surfaces were rated on hardness, roughness, stickiness, and temperature by the human experimenter and by a pool of purely visual observers. Then we trained an algorithm to perform the same task as well as infer quantitative properties calculated from the haptic data. Overall, the task of predicting haptic properties from vision alone proved difficult for both humans and computers, but a hybrid algorithm using a deep neural network and a support vector machine achieved a correlation between expected and actual regression output between approximately ρ = 0.3 and ρ = 0.5 on previously unseen surfaces.

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Project Page [BibTex]

Project Page [BibTex]


Robust Visual Augmented Reality in Robot-Assisted Surgery
Robust Visual Augmented Reality in Robot-Assisted Surgery

Forte, M. P.

Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy, July 2018, Department of Electronic, Information, and Biomedical Engineering (mastersthesis)

Abstract
The broader research objective of this line of research is to test the hypothesis that real-time stereo video analysis and augmented reality can increase safety and task efficiency in robot-assisted surgery. This master’s thesis aims to solve the first step needed to achieve this goal: the creation of a robust system that delivers the envisioned feedback to a surgeon while he or she controls a surgical robot that is identical to those used on human patients. Several approaches for applying augmented reality to da Vinci Surgical Systems have been proposed, but none of them entirely rely on a clinical robot; specifically, they require additional sensors, depend on access to the da Vinci API, are designed for a very specific task, or were tested on systems that are starkly different from those in clinical use. There has also been prior work that presents the real-world camera view and the computer graphics on separate screens, or not in real time. In other scenarios, the digital information is overlaid manually by the surgeons themselves or by computer scientists, rather than being generated automatically in response to the surgeon’s actions. We attempted to overcome the aforementioned constraints by acquiring input signals from the da Vinci stereo endoscope and providing augmented reality to the console in real time (less than 150 ms delay, including the 62 ms of inherent latency of the da Vinci). The potential benefits of the resulting system are broad because it was built to be general, rather than customized for any specific task. The entire platform is compatible with any generation of the da Vinci System and does not require a dVRK (da Vinci Research Kit) or access to the API. Thus, it can be applied to existing da Vinci Systems in operating rooms around the world.

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Project Page [BibTex]

Project Page [BibTex]


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Task-Driven PCA-Based Design Optimization of Wearable Cutaneous Devices

Pacchierotti, C., Young, E. M., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 3(3):2214-2221, July 2018, Presented at ICRA 2018 (article)

Abstract
Small size and low weight are critical requirements for wearable and portable haptic interfaces, making it essential to work toward the optimization of their sensing and actuation systems. This paper presents a new approach for task-driven design optimization of fingertip cutaneous haptic devices. Given one (or more) target tactile interactions to render and a cutaneous device to optimize, we evaluate the minimum number and best configuration of the device’s actuators to minimize the estimated haptic rendering error. First, we calculate the motion needed for the original cutaneous device to render the considered target interaction. Then, we run a principal component analysis (PCA) to search for possible couplings between the original motor inputs, looking also for the best way to reconfigure them. If some couplings exist, we can re-design our cutaneous device with fewer motors, optimally configured to render the target tactile sensation. The proposed approach is quite general and can be applied to different tactile sensors and cutaneous devices. We validated it using a BioTac tactile sensor and custom plate-based 3-DoF and 6-DoF fingertip cutaneous devices, considering six representative target tactile interactions. The algorithm was able to find couplings between each device’s motor inputs, proving it to be a viable approach to optimize the design of wearable and portable cutaneous devices. Finally, we present two examples of optimized designs for our 3-DoF fingertip cutaneous device.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


Robust Physics-based Motion Retargeting with Realistic Body Shapes
Robust Physics-based Motion Retargeting with Realistic Body Shapes

Borno, M. A., Righetti, L., Black, M. J., Delp, S. L., Fiume, E., Romero, J.

Computer Graphics Forum, 37, pages: 6:1-12, July 2018 (article)

Abstract
Motion capture is often retargeted to new, and sometimes drastically different, characters. When the characters take on realistic human shapes, however, we become more sensitive to the motion looking right. This means adapting it to be consistent with the physical constraints imposed by different body shapes. We show how to take realistic 3D human shapes, approximate them using a simplified representation, and animate them so that they move realistically using physically-based retargeting. We develop a novel spacetime optimization approach that learns and robustly adapts physical controllers to new bodies and constraints. The approach automatically adapts the motion of the mocap subject to the body shape of a target subject. This motion respects the physical properties of the new body and every body shape results in a different and appropriate movement. This makes it easy to create a varied set of motions from a single mocap sequence by simply varying the characters. In an interactive environment, successful retargeting requires adapting the motion to unexpected external forces. We achieve robustness to such forces using a novel LQR-tree formulation. We show that the simulated motions look appropriate to each character’s anatomy and their actions are robust to perturbations.

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pdf video Project Page Project Page [BibTex]

pdf video Project Page Project Page [BibTex]


Teaching a Robot Bimanual Hand-Clapping Games via Wrist-Worn {IMU}s
Teaching a Robot Bimanual Hand-Clapping Games via Wrist-Worn IMUs

Fitter, N. T., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Frontiers in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, 5(85), July 2018 (article)

Abstract
Colleagues often shake hands in greeting, friends connect through high fives, and children around the world rejoice in hand-clapping games. As robots become more common in everyday human life, they will have the opportunity to join in these social-physical interactions, but few current robots are intended to touch people in friendly ways. This article describes how we enabled a Baxter Research Robot to both teach and learn bimanual hand-clapping games with a human partner. Our system monitors the user's motions via a pair of inertial measurement units (IMUs) worn on the wrists. We recorded a labeled library of 10 common hand-clapping movements from 10 participants; this dataset was used to train an SVM classifier to automatically identify hand-clapping motions from previously unseen participants with a test-set classification accuracy of 97.0%. Baxter uses these sensors and this classifier to quickly identify the motions of its human gameplay partner, so that it can join in hand-clapping games. This system was evaluated by N = 24 naïve users in an experiment that involved learning sequences of eight motions from Baxter, teaching Baxter eight-motion game patterns, and completing a free interaction period. The motion classification accuracy in this less structured setting was 85.9%, primarily due to unexpected variations in motion timing. The quantitative task performance results and qualitative participant survey responses showed that learning games from Baxter was significantly easier than teaching games to Baxter, and that the teaching role caused users to consider more teamwork aspects of the gameplay. Over the course of the experiment, people felt more understood by Baxter and became more willing to follow the example of the robot. Users felt uniformly safe interacting with Baxter, and they expressed positive opinions of Baxter and reported fun interacting with the robot. Taken together, the results indicate that this robot achieved credible social-physical interaction with humans and that its ability to both lead and follow systematically changed the human partner's experience.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Automatically Rating Trainee Skill at a Pediatric Laparoscopic Suturing Task

Oquendo, Y. A., Riddle, E. W., Hiller, D., Blinman, T. A., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Surgical Endoscopy, 32(4):1840-1857, April 2018 (article)

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Immersive Low-Cost Virtual Reality Treatment for Phantom Limb Pain: Evidence from Two Cases

Ambron, E., Miller, A., Kuchenbecker, K. J., Buxbaum, L. J., Coslett, H. B.

Frontiers in Neurology, 9(67):1-7, 2018 (article)

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DOI Project Page [BibTex]

DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Learning a Structured Neural Network Policy for a Hopping Task.

Viereck, J., Kozolinsky, J., Herzog, A., Righetti, L.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 3(4):4092-4099, October 2018 (article)

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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The Impact of Robotics and Automation on Working Conditions and Employment [Ethical, Legal, and Societal Issues]

Pham, Q., Madhavan, R., Righetti, L., Smart, W., Chatila, R.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine, 25(2):126-128, June 2018 (article)

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems [Ethical, Legal, and Societal Issues]

Righetti, L., Pham, Q., Madhavan, R., Chatila, R.

IEEE Robotics \& Automation Magazine, 25(1):123-126, March 2018 (article)

Abstract
The topic of lethal autonomous weapon systems has recently caught public attention due to extensive news coverage and apocalyptic declarations from famous scientists and technologists. Weapon systems with increasing autonomy are being developed due to fast improvements in machine learning, robotics, and automation in general. These developments raise important and complex security, legal, ethical, societal, and technological issues that are being extensively discussed by scholars, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), militaries, governments, and the international community. Unfortunately, the robotics community has stayed out of the debate, for the most part, despite being the main provider of autonomous technologies. In this column, we review the main issues raised by the increase of autonomy in weapon systems and the state of the international discussion. We argue that the robotics community has a fundamental role to play in these discussions, for its own sake, to provide the often-missing technical expertise necessary to frame the debate and promote technological development in line with the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) objective of advancing technology to benefit humanity.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2008


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Frequency analysis with coupled nonlinear oscillators

Buchli, J., Righetti, L., Ijspeert, A.

Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, 237(13):1705-1718, August 2008 (article)

Abstract
We present a method to obtain the frequency spectrum of a signal with a nonlinear dynamical system. The dynamical system is composed of a pool of adaptive frequency oscillators with negative mean-field coupling. For the frequency analysis, the synchronization and adaptation properties of the component oscillators are exploited. The frequency spectrum of the signal is reflected in the statistics of the intrinsic frequencies of the oscillators. The frequency analysis is completely embedded in the dynamics of the system. Thus, no pre-processing or additional parameters, such as time windows, are needed. Representative results of the numerical integration of the system are presented. It is shown, that the oscillators tune to the correct frequencies for both discrete and continuous spectra. Due to its dynamic nature the system is also capable to track non-stationary spectra. Further, we show that the system can be modeled in a probabilistic manner by means of a nonlinear Fokker–Planck equation. The probabilistic treatment is in good agreement with the numerical results, and provides a useful tool to understand the underlying mechanisms leading to convergence.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2008


link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2007


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iCub - The Design and Realization of an Open Humanoid Platform for Cognitive and Neuroscience Research

Tsagarakis, N., Metta, G., Sandini, G., Vernon, D., Beira, R., Becchi, F., Righetti, L., Santos-Victor, J., Ijspeert, A., Carrozza, M., Caldwell, D.

Advanced Robotics, 21(10):1151-1175, 2007 (article)

Abstract
The development of robotic cognition and the advancement of understanding of human cognition form two of the current greatest challenges in robotics and neuroscience, respectively. The RobotCub project aims to develop an embodied robotic child (iCub) with the physical (height 90 cm and mass less than 23 kg) and ultimately cognitive abilities of a 2.5-year-old human child. The iCub will be a freely available open system which can be used by scientists in all cognate disciplines from developmental psychology to epigenetic robotics to enhance understanding of cognitive systems through the study of cognitive development. The iCub will be open both in software, but more importantly in all aspects of the hardware and mechanical design. In this paper the design of the mechanisms and structures forming the basic 'body' of the iCub are described. The papers considers kinematic structures dynamic design criteria, actuator specification and selection, and detailed mechanical and electronic design. The paper concludes with tests of the performance of sample joints, and comparison of these results with the design requirements and simulation projects.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2007


link (url) DOI [BibTex]