A cable-based series elastic actuator with conduit sensor for wearable exoskeletons
Blumenschein, Laura H.; McDonald, Craig G.; O’Malley, Marcia K.
There is currently a scarcity of wearable robotic devices that can practically provide physical assistance in a range of real world activities. Soft wearable exoskeletons, or exosuits, have the potential to be more portable and less restrictive than their rigid counterparts. In this paper, we present the design of an actuation system that has been optimized for use in a soft exosuit for the human arm. The selected design comprises a DC motor and gearbox, a flexible cable conduit transmission, and a custom series elastic force sensor. Placed in series with the transmission conduit, the custom compliant force sensor consists of a translational steel compression spring with a pair of Hall effect sensors for measuring deflection. The custom sensor is validated as an accurate means of measuring cable tension, and it is shown that it can be used in feedback to control the cable tension with high bandwidth. The dynamic effect of the cable-conduit transmission on the force felt at the user interface is characterized by backdriving the system as it renders a range of virtual impedances to the user. We conclude with recommendations for the integration of such an actuation system into a full wearable exosuit.