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2018


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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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Leveraging Contact Forces for Learning to Grasp

Merzic, H., Bogdanovic, M., Kappler, D., Righetti, L., Bohg, J.

arXiv, September 2018, Submitted to ICRA'19 (article) Submitted

Abstract
Grasping objects under uncertainty remains an open problem in robotics research. This uncertainty is often due to noisy or partial observations of the object pose or shape. To enable a robot to react appropriately to unforeseen effects, it is crucial that it continuously takes sensor feedback into account. While visual feedback is important for inferring a grasp pose and reaching for an object, contact feedback offers valuable information during manipulation and grasp acquisition. In this paper, we use model-free deep reinforcement learning to synthesize control policies that exploit contact sensing to generate robust grasping under uncertainty. We demonstrate our approach on a multi-fingered hand that exhibits more complex finger coordination than the commonly used two- fingered grippers. We conduct extensive experiments in order to assess the performance of the learned policies, with and without contact sensing. While it is possible to learn grasping policies without contact sensing, our results suggest that contact feedback allows for a significant improvement of grasping robustness under object pose uncertainty and for objects with a complex shape.

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video arXiv [BibTex]

video arXiv [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]


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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]


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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]


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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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On Time Optimization of Centroidal Momentum Dynamics

Ponton, B., Herzog, A., Del Prete, A., Schaal, S., Righetti, L.

In 2018 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), pages: 5776-5782, IEEE, Brisbane, Australia, May 2018 (inproceedings)

Abstract
Recently, the centroidal momentum dynamics has received substantial attention to plan dynamically consistent motions for robots with arms and legs in multi-contact scenarios. However, it is also non convex which renders any optimization approach difficult and timing is usually kept fixed in most trajectory optimization techniques to not introduce additional non convexities to the problem. But this can limit the versatility of the algorithms. In our previous work, we proposed a convex relaxation of the problem that allowed to efficiently compute momentum trajectories and contact forces. However, our approach could not minimize a desired angular momentum objective which seriously limited its applicability. Noticing that the non-convexity introduced by the time variables is of similar nature as the centroidal dynamics one, we propose two convex relaxations to the problem based on trust regions and soft constraints. The resulting approaches can compute time-optimized dynamically consistent trajectories sufficiently fast to make the approach realtime capable. The performance of the algorithm is demonstrated in several multi-contact scenarios for a humanoid robot. In particular, we show that the proposed convex relaxation of the original problem finds solutions that are consistent with the original non-convex problem and illustrate how timing optimization allows to find motion plans that would be difficult to plan with fixed timing † †Implementation details and demos can be found in the source code available at https://git-amd.tuebingen.mpg.de/bponton/timeoptimization.

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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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Unsupervised Contact Learning for Humanoid Estimation and Control

Rotella, N., Schaal, S., Righetti, L.

In 2018 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), pages: 411-417, IEEE, Brisbane, Australia, 2018 (inproceedings)

Abstract
This work presents a method for contact state estimation using fuzzy clustering to learn contact probability for full, six-dimensional humanoid contacts. The data required for training is solely from proprioceptive sensors - endeffector contact wrench sensors and inertial measurement units (IMUs) - and the method is completely unsupervised. The resulting cluster means are used to efficiently compute the probability of contact in each of the six endeffector degrees of freedom (DoFs) independently. This clustering-based contact probability estimator is validated in a kinematics-based base state estimator in a simulation environment with realistic added sensor noise for locomotion over rough, low-friction terrain on which the robot is subject to foot slip and rotation. The proposed base state estimator which utilizes these six DoF contact probability estimates is shown to perform considerably better than that which determines kinematic contact constraints purely based on measured normal force.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Learning Task-Specific Dynamics to Improve Whole-Body Control

Gams, A., Mason, S., Ude, A., Schaal, S., Righetti, L.

In Hua, IEEE, Beijing, China, November 2018 (inproceedings)

Abstract
In task-based inverse dynamics control, reference accelerations used to follow a desired plan can be broken down into feedforward and feedback trajectories. The feedback term accounts for tracking errors that are caused from inaccurate dynamic models or external disturbances. On underactuated, free-floating robots, such as humanoids, high feedback terms can be used to improve tracking accuracy; however, this can lead to very stiff behavior or poor tracking accuracy due to limited control bandwidth. In this paper, we show how to reduce the required contribution of the feedback controller by incorporating learned task-space reference accelerations. Thus, we i) improve the execution of the given specific task, and ii) offer the means to reduce feedback gains, providing for greater compliance of the system. With a systematic approach we also reduce heuristic tuning of the model parameters and feedback gains, often present in real-world experiments. In contrast to learning task-specific joint-torques, which might produce a similar effect but can lead to poor generalization, our approach directly learns the task-space dynamics of the center of mass of a humanoid robot. Simulated and real-world results on the lower part of the Sarcos Hermes humanoid robot demonstrate the applicability of the approach.

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link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


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An MPC Walking Framework With External Contact Forces

Mason, S., Rotella, N., Schaal, S., Righetti, L.

In 2018 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), pages: 1785-1790, IEEE, Brisbane, Australia, May 2018 (inproceedings)

Abstract
In this work, we present an extension to a linear Model Predictive Control (MPC) scheme that plans external contact forces for the robot when given multiple contact locations and their corresponding friction cone. To this end, we set up a two-step optimization problem. In the first optimization, we compute the Center of Mass (CoM) trajectory, foot step locations, and introduce slack variables to account for violating the imposed constraints on the Zero Moment Point (ZMP). We then use the slack variables to trigger the second optimization, in which we calculate the optimal external force that compensates for the ZMP tracking error. This optimization considers multiple contacts positions within the environment by formulating the problem as a Mixed Integer Quadratic Program (MIQP) that can be solved at a speed between 100-300 Hz. Once contact is created, the MIQP reduces to a single Quadratic Program (QP) that can be solved in real-time ({\textless}; 1kHz). Simulations show that the presented walking control scheme can withstand disturbances 2-3× larger with the additional force provided by a hand contact.

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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]

2006


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Dynamic Hebbian learning in adaptive frequency oscillators

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

Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, 216(2):269-281, 2006 (article)

Abstract
Nonlinear oscillators are widely used in biology, physics and engineering for modeling and control. They are interesting because of their synchronization properties when coupled to other dynamical systems. In this paper, we propose a learning rule for oscillators which adapts their frequency to the frequency of any periodic or pseudo-periodic input signal. Learning is done in a dynamic way: it is part of the dynamical system and not an offline process. An interesting property of our model is that it is easily generalizable to a large class of oscillators, from phase oscillators to relaxation oscillators and strange attractors with a generic learning rule. One major feature of our learning rule is that the oscillators constructed can adapt their frequency without any signal processing or the need to specify a time window or similar free parameters. All the processing is embedded in the dynamics of the adaptive oscillator. The convergence of the learning is proved for the Hopf oscillator, then numerical experiments are carried out to explore the learning capabilities of the system. Finally, we generalize the learning rule to non-harmonic oscillators like relaxation oscillators and strange attractors.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2006


link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Movement generation using dynamical systems : a humanoid robot performing a drumming task

Degallier, S., Santos, C. P., Righetti, L., Ijspeert, A.

In 2006 6th IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots, pages: 512-517, IEEE, Genova, Italy, 2006 (inproceedings)

Abstract
The online generation of trajectories in humanoid robots remains a difficult problem. In this contribution, we present a system that allows the superposition, and the switch between, discrete and rhythmic movements. Our approach uses nonlinear dynamical systems for generating trajectories online and in real time. Our goal is to make use of attractor properties of dynamical systems in order to provide robustness against small perturbations and to enable online modulation of the trajectories. The system is demonstrated on a humanoid robot performing a drumming task.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Engineering Entrainment and Adaptation in Limit Cycle Systems – From biological inspiration to applications in robotics

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

Biological Cybernetics, 95(6):645-664, December 2006 (article)

Abstract
Periodic behavior is key to life and is observed in multiple instances and at multiple time scales in our metabolism, our natural environment, and our engineered environment. A natural way of modeling or generating periodic behavior is done by using oscillators, i.e., dynamical systems that exhibit limit cycle behavior. While there is extensive literature on methods to analyze such dynamical systems, much less work has been done on methods to synthesize an oscillator to exhibit some specific desired characteristics. The goal of this article is twofold: (1) to provide a framework for characterizing and designing oscillators and (2) to review how classes of well-known oscillators can be understood and related to this framework. The basis of the framework is to characterize oscillators in terms of their fundamental temporal and spatial behavior and in terms of properties that these two behaviors can be designed to exhibit. This focus on fundamental properties is important because it allows us to systematically compare a large variety of oscillators that might at first sight appear very different from each other. We identify several specifications that are useful for design, such as frequency-locking behavior, phase-locking behavior, and specific output signal shape. We also identify two classes of design methods by which these specifications can be met, namely offline methods and online methods. By relating these specifications to our framework and by presenting several examples of how oscillators have been designed in the literature, this article provides a useful methodology and toolbox for designing oscillators for a wide range of purposes. In particular, the focus on synthesis of limit cycle dynamical systems should be useful both for engineering and for computational modeling of physical or biological phenomena.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Design methodologies for central pattern generators: an application to crawling humanoids

Righetti, L., Ijspeert, A.

In Proceedings of Robotics: Science and Systems, Philadelphia, USA, August 2006 (inproceedings)

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Programmable central pattern generators: an application to biped locomotion control

Righetti, L., Ijspeert, A.

In Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, 2006. ICRA 2006., pages: 1585-1590, IEEE, 2006 (inproceedings)

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[BibTex]

[BibTex]