Modeling of operator action for intelligent control of haptic human-robot interfaces
Gallagher, William John
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Control of systems requiring direct physical human-robot interaction (pHRI) requires special consideration of the motion, dynamics, and control of both the human and the robot. Humans actively change their dynamic characteristics during motion, and robots should be designed with this in mind. Both the case of humans trying to control haptic robots using physical contact and the case of using wearable robots that must work with human muscles are pHRI systems. Force feedback haptic devices require physical contact between the operator and the machine, which creates a coupled system. This human contact creates a situation in which the stiffness of the system changes based on how the operator modulates the stiffness of their arm. The natural human tendency is to increase arm stiffness to attempt to stabilize motion. However, this increases the overall stiffness of the system, making it more difficult to control and reducing stability. Instability poses a threat of injury or load damage for large assistive haptic devices with heavy loads. Controllers do not typically account for this, as operator stiffness is often not directly measurable. The common solution of using a controller with significantly increased controller damping has the disadvantage of slowing the device and decreasing operator efficiency. By expanding the information available to the controller, it can be designed to adjust a robot's motion based on the how the operator is interacting with it and allow for faster movement in low stiffness situations. This research explored the utility of a system that can estimate operator arm stiffness and compensate accordingly. By measuring muscle activity, a model of the human arm was utilized to estimate the stiffness level of the operator, and then adjust the gains of an impedance-based controller to stabilize the device. This achieved the goal of reducing oscillations and increasing device performance, as demonstrated through a series of user trials with the device. Through the design of this system, the effectiveness of a variety of operator models were analyzed and several different controllers were explored. The final device has the potential to increase the performance of operators and reduce fatigue due to usage, which in industrial settings could translate into better efficiency and higher productivity. Similarly, wearable robots must consider human muscle activity. Wearable robots, often called exoskeleton robots, are used for a variety of tasks, including force amplification, rehabilitation, and medical diagnosis. Force amplification exoskeletons operate much like haptic assist devices, and could leverage the same adaptive control system. The latter two types, however, are designed with the purpose of modulating human muscles, in which case the wearer's muscles must adapt to the way the robot moves, the reverse of the robot adapting to how the human moves. In this case, the robot controller must apply a force to the arm to cause the arm muscles to adapt and generate a specific muscle activity pattern. This related problem is explored and a muscle control algorithm is designed that allows a wearable robot to induce a specified muscle pattern in the wearer's arm. The two problems, in which the robot must adapt to the human's motion and in which the robot must induce the human to adapt its motion, are related critical problems that must be solved to enable simple and natural physical human robot interaction.