Low-level research goals include:
- Identify low-level objectives, such as limiting peak forces, that drive animal physiology and can guide the design of physical robots and their controllers.
- Identify the roles of passive dynamics and control in legged locomotion, as it applies to animals and to robots.
- Identify guidelines for the design of physical robots, such as leg configurations, to generate passive dynamics that work with controllers to achieve the low-level objectives.
- Generate controllers that, when implemented on a physical robot with appropriate passive dynamics, achieve the low-level objectives for efficient, robust locomotion.
- Validate that hypothesized low-level objectives of animal locomotion, when implemented through control and passive dynamics on a physical robot, do reproduce observed animal behavior.
Our approach begins with a bio-inspired dynamic model, from which we create theoretical control strategies proven to produce the desired stable and efficient running gaits using these models. We then design robots to match these simple dynamic models as closely as possible. Finally, we create a control framework to map the control of the ideal model to the behavior of the robot, because the robot will be an imperfect representation of our model. This path from theoretical models to robotic implementation is a circular path, as we learn about engineering limitations and novel control ideas, and revise our mechanism and controllers accordingly.
Building a strong theoretical foundation for legged locomotion has a broad impact and will forever enable:
- Powered prosthetic feet and legs that operate as well as a natural limb.
- Exoskeletons that assist otherwise wheelchair-bound individuals.
- Legged robots that get around in human environments and can aid in search and rescue efforts during disaster scenarios.
- Provide designers with guidelines on which aspects of locomotion must be implemented through passive dynamics versus computer control.