Improved Stability of Haptic Human-Robot Interfaces using Measurement of Human Arm Stiffness
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Necessary physical contact between an operator and a force feedback haptic device creates a coupled system consisting of human and machine. This contact, combined with the natural human tendency to increase arm stiffness to attempt to stabilize its motion, can reduce the stability of the system. This paper proposes a method to increase stability on demand while maintaining speed and performance. Operator arm stiffness is not directly measurable, so controllers cannot typically account for this issue. The causes of arm end-point stiffness are examined as related to system stability, and a method for estimating changes in arm stiffness based on arm muscle activity was designed to provide a robotic controller with additional information about the operator. This was accomplished using electromyograms (EMGs) to measure muscle activities and estimating the level of arm stiffness, which was used to adjust the dynamic characteristics of an impedance controller. To support this design, the correlation between EMGs and arm stiffness was validated experimentally. Further experiments characterized the effects of the designed system on operator performance. This showed increased stability and faster, more accurate movements using the compensating system. Such a system could be used in many applications, including force assisting devices in industrial facilities.