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  • Journal article
    Russell F, Takeda Y, Kormushev P, Vaidyanathan R, Ellison Pet al., 2021,

    Stiffness modulation in a humanoid robotic leg and knee

    , IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, Vol: 6, Pages: 2563-2570, ISSN: 2377-3766

    Stiffness modulation in walking is critical to maintain static/dynamic stability as well as minimize energy consumption and impact damage. However, optimal, or even functional, stiffness parameterization remains unresolved in legged robotics.We introduce an architecture for stiffness control utilizing a bioinspired robotic limb consisting of a condylar knee joint and leg with antagonistic actuation. The joint replicates elastic ligaments of the human knee providing tuneable compliance for walking. It further locks out at maximum extension, providing stability when standing. Compliance and friction losses between joint surfaces are derived as a function of ligament stiffness and length. Experimental studies validate utility through quantification of: 1) hip perturbation response; 2) payload capacity; and 3) static stiffness of the leg mechanism.Results prove initiation and compliance at lock out can be modulated independently of friction loss by changing ligament elasticity. Furthermore, increasing co-contraction or decreasing joint angle enables increased leg stiffness, which establishes co-contraction is counterbalanced by decreased payload.Findings have direct application in legged robots and transfemoral prosthetic knees, where biorobotic design could reduce energy expense while improving efficiency and stability. Future targeted impact involves increasing power/weight ratios in walking robots and artificial limbs for increased efficiency and precision in walking control.

  • Journal article
    Cursi F, Modugno V, Lanari L, Oriolo G, Kormushev Pet al., 2021,

    Bayesian neural network modeling and hierarchical MPC for a tendon-driven surgical robot with uncertainty minimization

    , IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, Vol: 6, Pages: 2642-2649, ISSN: 2377-3766

    In order to guarantee precision and safety in robotic surgery, accurate models of the robot and proper control strategies are needed. Bayesian Neural Networks (BNN) are capable of learning complex models and provide information about the uncertainties of the learned system. Model Predictive Control (MPC) is a reliable control strategy to ensure optimality and satisfaction of safety constraints. In this work we propose the use of BNN to build the highly nonlinear kinematic and dynamic models of a tendon-driven surgical robot, and exploit the information about the epistemic uncertainties by means of a Hierarchical MPC (Hi-MPC) control strategy. Simulation and real world experiments show that the method is capable of ensuring accurate tip positioning, while satisfying imposed safety bounds on the kinematics and dynamics of the robot.

  • Journal article
    Saputra RP, Rakicevic N, Chappell D, Wang K, Kormushev Pet al., 2021,

    Hierarchical decomposed-objective model predictive control for autonomous casualty extraction

    , IEEE Access, Vol: 9, Pages: 39656-39679, ISSN: 2169-3536

    In recent years, several robots have been developed and deployed to perform casualty extraction tasks. However, the majority of these robots are overly complex, and require teleoperation via either a skilled operator or a specialised device, and often the operator must be present at the scene to navigate safely around the casualty. Instead, improving the autonomy of such robots can reduce the reliance on expert operators and potentially unstable communication systems, while still extracting the casualty in a safe manner. There are several stages in the casualty extraction procedure, from navigating to the location of the emergency, safely approaching and loading the casualty, to finally navigating back to the medical assistance location. In this paper, we propose a Hierarchical Decomposed-Objective based Model Predictive Control (HiDO-MPC) method for safely approaching and manoeuvring around the casualty. We implement this controller on ResQbot — a proof-of-concept mobile rescue robot we previously developed — capable of safely rescuing an injured person lying on the ground, i.e. performing the casualty extraction procedure. HiDO-MPC achieves the desired casualty extraction behaviour by decomposing the main objective into multiple sub-objectives with a hierarchical structure. At every time step, the controller evaluates this hierarchical decomposed objective and generates the optimal control decision. We have conducted a number of experiments both in simulation and using the real robot to evaluate the proposed method’s performance, and compare it with baseline approaches. The results demonstrate that the proposed control strategy gives significantly better results than baseline approaches in terms of accuracy, robustness, and execution time, when applied to casualty extraction scenarios.

  • Conference paper
    Murai R, Saeedi S, Kelly P, 2021,

    BIT-VO: visual odometry at 300 FPS using binary features from the focal plane

    , IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), 2020, Publisher: IEEE, Pages: 8579-8586

    Focal-plane Sensor-processor (FPSP) is a next-generation camera technology which enables every pixel on the sensor chip to perform computation in parallel, on the focal plane where the light intensity is captured. SCAMP-5 is a general-purpose FPSP used in this work and it carries out computations in the analog domain before analog to digital conversion. By extracting features from the image on the focal plane, data which is digitised and transferred is reduced. As a consequence, SCAMP-5 offers a high frame rate while maintaining low energy consumption. Here, we present BITVO, which is the first 6-Degrees of Freedom visual odometry algorithm which utilises the FPSP. Our entire system operates at 300 FPS in a natural environment, using binary edges and corner features detected by the SCAMP-5.

  • Conference paper
    Johns E, Garcia-Hernando G, Kim T-K, 2020,

    Physics-based dexterous manipulations with estimated hand poses and residual reinforcement learning

    , 2020 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, Publisher: IEEE, Pages: 9561-9568

    Dexterous manipulation of objects in virtual environments with our bare hands, by using only a depth sensor and a state-of-the-art 3D hand pose estimator (HPE), is challenging. While virtual environments are ruled by physics, e.g. object weights and surface frictions, the absence of force feedback makes the task challenging, as even slight inaccuracies on finger tips or contact points from HPE may make the interactions fail. Prior arts simply generate contact forces in the direction of the fingers' closures, when finger joints penetrate virtual objects. Although useful for simple grasping scenarios, they cannot be applied to dexterous manipulations such as inhand manipulation. Existing reinforcement learning (RL) and imitation learning (IL) approaches train agents that learn skills by using task-specific rewards, without considering any online user input. In this work, we propose to learn a model that maps noisy input hand poses to target virtual poses, which introduces the needed contacts to accomplish the tasks on a physics simulator. The agent is trained in a residual setting by using a model-free hybrid RL+IL approach. A 3D hand pose estimation reward is introduced leading to an improvement on HPE accuracy when the physics-guided corrected target poses are remapped to the input space. As the model corrects HPE errors by applying minor but crucial joint displacements for contacts, this helps to keep the generated motion visually close to the user input. Since HPE sequences performing successful virtual interactions do not exist, a data generation scheme to train and evaluate the system is proposed. We test our framework in two applications that use hand pose estimates for dexterous manipulations: hand-object interactions in VR and hand-object motion reconstruction in-the-wild. Experiments show that the proposed method outperforms various RL/IL baselines and the simple prior art of enforcing hand closure, both in task success and hand pose accuracy.

  • Conference paper
    Valassakis P, Ding Z, Johns E, 2021,

    Crossing the gap: a deep dive into zero-shot sim-to-real transfer for dynamics

    , 2020 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, Publisher: IEEE

    Zero-shot sim-to-real transfer of tasks with complex dynamics is a highly challenging and unsolved problem. A number of solutions have been proposed in recent years, but we have found that many works do not present a thorough evaluation in the real world, or underplay the significant engineering effort and task-specific fine tuning that is required to achieve the published results. In this paper, we dive deeper into the sim-to-real transfer challenge, investigate why this issuch a difficult problem, and present objective evaluations of anumber of transfer methods across a range of real-world tasks.Surprisingly, we found that a method which simply injects random forces into the simulation performs just as well as more complex methods, such as those which randomise the simulator's dynamics parameters

  • Conference paper
    Cursi F, Modugno V, Kormushev P, 2021,

    Model predictive control for a tendon-driven surgical robot with safety constraints in kinematics and dynamics

    , Las Vegas, USA, International Conference on Intelligence Robots and Systems (IROS), Pages: 7653-7660

    In fields such as minimally invasive surgery, effective control strategies are needed to guarantee safety andaccuracy of the surgical task. Mechanical designs and actuationschemes have inevitable limitations such as backlash and jointlimits. Moreover, surgical robots need to operate in narrowpathways, which may give rise to additional environmentalconstraints. Therefore, the control strategies must be capableof satisfying the desired motion trajectories and the imposedconstraints. Model Predictive Control (MPC) has proven effective for this purpose, allowing to solve an optimal problem bytaking into consideration the evolution of the system states, costfunction, and constraints over time. The high nonlinearities intendon-driven systems, adopted in many surgical robots, are difficult to be modelled analytically. In this work, we use a modellearning approach for the dynamics of tendon-driven robots.The dynamic model is then employed to impose constraintson the torques of the robot under consideration and solve anoptimal constrained control problem for trajectory trackingby using MPC. To assess the capabilities of the proposedframework, both simulated and real world experiments havebeen conducted

  • Conference paper
    Rakicevic N, Cully A, Kormushev P, 2020,

    Policy manifold search for improving diversity-based neuroevolution

    , Publisher: arXiv

    Diversity-based approaches have recently gained popularity as an alternativeparadigm to performance-based policy search. A popular approach from thisfamily, Quality-Diversity (QD), maintains a collection of high-performingpolicies separated in the diversity-metric space, defined based on policies'rollout behaviours. When policies are parameterised as neural networks, i.e.Neuroevolution, QD tends to not scale well with parameter space dimensionality.Our hypothesis is that there exists a low-dimensional manifold embedded in thepolicy parameter space, containing a high density of diverse and feasiblepolicies. We propose a novel approach to diversity-based policy search viaNeuroevolution, that leverages learned latent representations of the policyparameters which capture the local structure of the data. Our approachiteratively collects policies according to the QD framework, in order to (i)build a collection of diverse policies, (ii) use it to learn a latentrepresentation of the policy parameters, (iii) perform policy search in thelearned latent space. We use the Jacobian of the inverse transformation(i.e.reconstruction function) to guide the search in the latent space. Thisensures that the generated samples remain in the high-density regions of theoriginal space, after reconstruction. We evaluate our contributions on threecontinuous control tasks in simulated environments, and compare todiversity-based baselines. The findings suggest that our approach yields a moreefficient and robust policy search process.

  • Conference paper
    Shen M, Clark A, Rojas N, 2020,

    A scalable variable stiffness revolute joint based on layer jamming for robotic exoskeletons

    , Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems Conference ( TAROS ) 2020, Publisher: Springer Verlag, Pages: 3-14, ISSN: 0302-9743

    Robotic exoskeletons have been a focal point of research due to an ever-increasing ageing population, longer life expectancy, and a desire to further improve the existing capabilities of humans. However, their effectiveness is often limited, with strong rigid structures poorly interfacing with humans and soft flexible mechanisms providing limited forces. In this paper, a scalable variable stiffness revolute joint is proposed to overcome this problem. By using layer jamming, the joint has the ability to stiffen or soften for different use cases. A theoretical and experimental study of maximum stiffness with size was conducted to determine the suitability and scalablity of this technology. Three sizes (50 mm, 37.5 mm, 25 mm diameter) of the joint were developed and evaluated. Results indicate that this technology is most suitable for use in human fingers, as the prototypes demonstrate a sufficient torque (0.054 Nm) to support finger movement.

  • Conference paper
    Wang J, Lu Q, Clark A, Rojas Net al., 2020,

    A passively complaint idler mechanism for underactuated dexterous grippers with dynamic tendon routing

    , Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems Conference (TAROS ) 2020, Publisher: Springer Verlag, Pages: 25-36, ISSN: 0302-9743

    In the field of robotic hands, tendon actuation is one of the most common ways to control self-adaptive underactuated fingers thanks to its compact size. Either differential or direct drive mechanisms are usually used in these systems to perform synchronised grasping using a single actuator. However, synchronisation problems arise in underactuated grippers whose position of proximal joints varies with time to perform manipulation operations, as this results in a tendon-driven system with dynamic anchor pulleys. This paper introduces a novel passively compliant idler mechanism to avoid unsynchronisation in grippers with a dynamic multi-tendon routing system, such that adequate grasping contact forces are kept under changes in the proximal joints’ positions. A re-configurable palm underactuated dexterous gripper is used as a case study, with the performance of the proposed compliant idler system being evaluated and compared through a contact force analysis during rotation and translation in-hand manipulation tasks. Experiment results clearly demonstrate the ability of the mechanism to synchronise a dynamic tendon routing gripper. A video summarising experiments and findings can be found at

  • Journal article
    Fischer T, Demiris Y, 2020,

    Computational modelling of embodied visual perspective-taking

    , IEEE Transactions on Cognitive and Developmental Systems, Vol: 12, Pages: 723-732, ISSN: 2379-8920

    Humans are inherently social beings that benefit from their perceptional capability to embody another point of view, typically referred to as perspective-taking. Perspective-taking is an essential feature in our daily interactions and is pivotal for human development. However, much remains unknown about the precise mechanisms that underlie perspective-taking. Here we show that formalizing perspective-taking in a computational model can detail the embodied mechanisms employed by humans in perspective-taking. The model's main building block is a set of action primitives that are passed through a forward model. The model employs a process that selects a subset of action primitives to be passed through the forward model to reduce the response time. The model demonstrates results that mimic those captured by human data, including (i) response times differences caused by the angular disparity between the perspective-taker and the other agent, (ii) the impact of task-irrelevant body posture variations in perspective-taking, and (iii) differences in the perspective-taking strategy between individuals. Our results provide support for the hypothesis that perspective-taking is a mental simulation of the physical movements that are required to match another person's visual viewpoint. Furthermore, the model provides several testable predictions, including the prediction that forced early responses lead to an egocentric bias and that a selection process introduces dependencies between two consecutive trials. Our results indicate potential links between perspective-taking and other essential perceptional and cognitive mechanisms, such as active vision and autobiographical memories.

  • Journal article
    Saracino A, Oude-Vrielink TJC, Menciassi A, Sinibaldi E, Mylonas GPet al., 2020,

    Haptic Intracorporeal Palpation Using a Cable-Driven Parallel Robot: A User Study

    , IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING, Vol: 67, Pages: 3452-3463, ISSN: 0018-9294
  • Conference paper
    Goncalves Nunes UM, Demiris Y, 2020,

    Entropy minimisation framework for event-based vision model estimation

    , 16th European Conference on Computer Vision 2020, Publisher: Springer, Pages: 161-176

    We propose a novel Entropy Minimisation (EMin) frame-work for event-based vision model estimation. The framework extendsprevious event-based motion compensation algorithms to handle modelswhose outputs have arbitrary dimensions. The main motivation comesfrom estimating motion from events directly in 3D space (e.g.eventsaugmented with depth), without projecting them onto an image plane.This is achieved by modelling the event alignment according to candidateparameters and minimising the resultant dispersion. We provide a familyof suitable entropy loss functions and an efficient approximation whosecomplexity is only linear with the number of events (e.g.the complexitydoes not depend on the number of image pixels). The framework is eval-uated on several motion estimation problems, including optical flow androtational motion. As proof of concept, we also test our framework on6-DOF estimation by performing the optimisation directly in 3D space.

  • Conference paper
    Liu S, Lin Z, Wang Y, Jianming Z, Perazzi F, Johns Eet al., 2020,

    Shape adaptor: a learnable resizing module

    , European Conference on Computer Vision 2020, Publisher: Springer Verlag, Pages: 661-677, ISSN: 0302-9743

    We present a novel resizing module for neural networks: shape adaptor, a drop-in enhancement built on top of traditional resizing layers, such as pooling, bilinear sampling, and strided convolution. Whilst traditional resizing layers have fixed and deterministic reshaping factors, our module allows for a learnable reshaping factor. Our implementation enables shape adaptors to be trained end-to-end without any additional supervision, through which network architectures can be optimised for each individual task, in a fully automated way. We performed experiments across seven image classification datasets, and results show that by simply using a set of our shape adaptors instead of the original resizing layers, performance increases consistently over human-designed networks, across all datasets. Additionally, we show the effectiveness of shape adaptors on two other applications: network compression and transfer learning.

  • Journal article
    Russell F, Kormushev P, Vaidyanathan R, Ellison Pet al., 2020,

    The impact of ACL laxity on a bicondylar robotic knee and implications in human joint biomechanics

    , IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, Vol: 67, Pages: 2817-2827, ISSN: 0018-9294

    Objective: Elucidating the role of structural mechanisms in the knee can improve joint surgeries, rehabilitation, and understanding of biped locomotion. Identification of key features, however, is challenging due to limitations in simulation and in-vivo studies. In particular the coupling of the patello-femoral and tibio-femoral joints with ligaments and its impact on joint mechanics and movement is not understood. We investigate this coupling experimentally through the design and testing of a robotic sagittal plane model. Methods: We constructed a sagittal plane robot comprised of: 1) elastic links representing cruciate ligaments; 2) a bi-condylar joint; 3) a patella; and 4) actuator hamstrings and quadriceps. Stiffness and geometry were derived from anthropometric data. 10° - 110° squatting tests were executed at speeds of 0.1 - 0.25Hz over a range of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) slack lengths. Results: Increasing ACL length compromised joint stability, yet did not impact quadriceps mechanical advantage and force required for squat. The trend was consistent through varying condyle contact point and ligament force changes. Conclusion: The geometry of the condyles allows the ratio of quadriceps to patella tendon force to compensate for contact point changes imparted by the removal of the ACL. Thus the system maintains a constant mechanical advantage. Significance: The investigation uncovers critical features of human knee biomechanics. Findings contribute to understanding of knee ligament damage, inform procedures for knee surgery and orthopaedic implant design, and support design of trans-femoral prosthetics and walking robots. Results further demonstrate the utility of robotics as a powerful means of studying human joint biomechanics.

  • Conference paper
    Wang K, Marsh DM, Saputra RP, Chappell D, Jiang Z, Raut A, Kon B, Kormushev Pet al., 2020,

    Design and control of SLIDER: an ultra-lightweight, knee-less, low-cost bipedal walking robot

    , Las Vegas, USA, International Conference on Intelligence Robots and Systems (IROS), Publisher: IEEE, Pages: 3488-3495

    Most state-of-the-art bipedal robots are designedto be highly anthropomorphic and therefore possess legs withknees. Whilst this facilitates more human-like locomotion, thereare implementation issues that make walking with straight ornear-straight legs difficult. Most bipedal robots have to movewith a constant bend in the legs to avoid singularities at theknee joints, and to keep the centre of mass at a constant heightfor control purposes. Furthermore, having a knee on the legincreases the design complexity as well as the weight of the leg,hindering the robot’s performance in agile behaviours such asrunning and jumping.We present SLIDER, an ultra-lightweight, low-cost bipedalwalking robot with a novel knee-less leg design. This nonanthropomorphic straight-legged design reduces the weight ofthe legs significantly whilst keeping the same functionality asanthropomorphic legs. Simulation results show that SLIDER’slow-inertia legs contribute to less vertical motion in the centerof mass (CoM) than anthropomorphic robots during walking,indicating that SLIDER’s model is closer to the widely usedInverted Pendulum (IP) model. Finally, stable walking onflat terrain is demonstrated both in simulation and in thephysical world, and feedback control is implemented to addresschallenges with the physical robot.

  • Journal article
    AlAttar A, Kormushev P, 2020,

    Kinematic-model-free orientation control for robot manipulation using locally weighted dual quaternions

    , Robotics, Vol: 9, Pages: 1-12, ISSN: 2218-6581

    Conventional control of robotic manipulators requires prior knowledge of their kinematic structure. Model-learning controllers have the advantage of being able to control robots without requiring a complete kinematic model and work well in less structured environments. Our recently proposed Encoderless controller has shown promising ability to control a manipulator without requiring any prior kinematic model whatsoever. However, this controller is only limited to position control, leaving orientation control unsolved. The research presented in this paper extends the state-of-the-art kinematic-model-free controller to handle orientation control to manipulate a robotic arm without requiring any prior model of the robot or any joint angle information during control. This paper presents a novel method to simultaneously control the position and orientation of a robot’s end effector using locally weighted dual quaternions. The proposed novel controller is also scaled up to control three-degrees-of-freedom robots.

  • Conference paper
    Ding Z, Lepora N, Johns E, 2020,

    Sim-to-real transfer for optical tactile sensing

    , IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Publisher: IEEE, Pages: 1639-1645, ISSN: 2152-4092

    Deep learning and reinforcement learning meth-ods have been shown to enable learning of flexible and complexrobot controllers. However, the reliance on large amounts oftraining data often requires data collection to be carried outin simulation, with a number of sim-to-real transfer methodsbeing developed in recent years. In this paper, we study thesetechniques for tactile sensing using the TacTip optical tactilesensor, which consists of a deformable tip with a cameraobserving the positions of pins inside this tip. We designeda model for soft body simulation which was implemented usingthe Unity physics engine, and trained a neural network topredict the locations and angles of edges when in contact withthe sensor. Using domain randomisation techniques for sim-to-real transfer, we show how this framework can be used toaccurately predict edges with less than 1 mm prediction errorin real-world testing, without any real-world data at all.

  • Conference paper
    Clark A, Rojas N, 2020,

    Design and workspace characterisation of malleable robots

    , IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Publisher: IEEE, Pages: 9021-9027

    For the majority of tasks performed by traditionalserial robot arms, such as bin picking or pick and place, onlytwo or three degrees of freedom (DOF) are required for motion;however, by augmenting the number of degrees of freedom,further dexterity of robot arms for multiple tasks can beachieved. Instead of increasing the number of joints of a robotto improve flexibility and adaptation, which increases controlcomplexity, weight, and cost of the overall system, malleablerobots utilise a variable stiffness link between joints allowing therelative positioning of the revolute pairs at each end of the linkto vary, thus enabling a low DOF serial robot to adapt acrosstasks by varying its workspace. In this paper, we present thedesign and prototyping of a 2-DOF malleable robot, calculatethe general equation of its workspace using a parameterisationbased on distance geometry—suitable for robot arms of variabletopology, and characterise the workspace categories that theend effector of the robot can trace via reconfiguration. Throughthe design and construction of the malleable robot we exploredesign considerations, and demonstrate the viability of theoverall concept. By using motion tracking on the physical robot,we show examples of the infinite number of workspaces thatthe introduced 2-DOF malleable robot can achieve.

  • Journal article
    Baron N, Philippides A, Rojas N, 2020,

    A robust geometric method of singularity avoidance for kinematically redundant planar parallel robot manipulators

    , Mechanism and Machine Theory, Vol: 151, Pages: 1-14, ISSN: 0094-114X

    Jacobian-based methods of singularity analysis are known to be unreliable when applied to kinematically redundant parallel robot manipulators, due to their potential to miss certain singularities and incorrectly identify others in the manipulator’s workspace. In this paper, a geometric method of singularity avoidance for kinematically redundant planar parallel robot manipulators is presented, which firstly determines the manipulator’s proximity to a singularity and then computes how the kinematically redundant degree(s) of freedom should be optimised for the given pose of the end-effector. The singularity analysis is conducted by examining the mechanism in terms of the instantaneous centres of rotation of its corresponding mobility one sub-mechanisms when all but one of the actuators are locked, where the manipulator is in a type-II singularity when these points either are indeterminable or coincide with one another, and an index, rmin, is introduced which describes the minimum normalised distance from such conditions being met. A predictor-corrector method is employed to compute the configuration for which rmin is optimised, and is reachable without crossing a singularity. Finally, the advantages of the geometric method of singularity analysis are shown in comparison to traditional Jacobian-based methods when applied to kinematically redundant parallel robot manipulators.

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