Control design of a novel compliant actuator for rehabilitation robots

Haoyong Yu, Sunan Huang, Gong Chen, Nitish Thakor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Rehabilitation robots have direct physical interaction with human body. Ideally, actuators for rehabilitation robots should be compliant, force controllable, and back drivable due to safety and control considerations. Series Elastic Actuators (SEA) offers many advantages for these applications and various designs have been developed. However, current SEA designs face a common performance limitation due to the compromise on the spring stiffness selection. This paper presents a novel compact compliant force control actuator design for portable rehabilitation robots to overcome the performance limitations of current SEAs. Our design consists of a servomotor, a ball screw, a torsional spring between the motor and the ball screw, and a set of translational springs between the ball screw nut and the external load. The soft translational springs are used to handle the low force operation, while the torsional spring with high effective stiffness is used to deal with the large force operation. It is a challenging task to design the controller for such a novel design as the control system needs to handle both the force ranges. In this paper, we develop the force control strategy for this actuator. First, two dynamical models of the actuator are established based on different force ranges. Second, we propose an optimal control with friction compensation and disturbance rejection which is enhanced by a feedforward control for the low force range. The proposed optimal control with feedforward term is also extended to the high force range. Third, a switching control strategy is proposed to handle a transition between low force and high force control. The mathematical proof is given to ensure the stability of the closed-loop system under the proposed switching control. Finally, the proposed method is validated with experimental results on a prototype of the actuator system and is also verified with an ankle robot in walking experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1072-1083
Number of pages12
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Compliant actuator
  • Optimal control
  • Sliding mode
  • Smooth switching control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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