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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/H04924X/1
Title: Bioinspired Control Architectures for Multilegged Locomotion
Principal Investigator: Spence, Dr AJH
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Comparative Biomedical Sciences CBS
Organisation: Royal Veterinary College
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 01 October 2010 Ends: 31 March 2012 Value (£): 100,501
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Control Engineering Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Apr 2010 Materials, Mechanical & Medical Engineering Panel Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The primary aim of this research is to discover control principles for multi-legged locomotor systems that will allow them to move safely over soft surfaces. The secondary aim is to understand what determines the amount of energy it takes to move on these soft surfaces. The results of these aims will be synthesized to propose a control architecture that is both stable and energy efficient for multi-legged systems moving on soft surfaces. This research has broad, important applications in engineering and biology. Any robot designed to operate in the real world will innevitably encounter some form of compliant surface, upon which it must remain stable, and, if controlled properly, could reduce its energy consumption. This research would enable that robot to move safely and efficiently on soft surfaces. More agile, efficient robots have immediate and critical application to search and rescue, space exploration, and disaster relief. Furthermore, a better understanding of legged systems would enable us to build prosthetic limbs that work naturally on rough or moving terrain, and to provide better rehabilitation to those with neurological disease or injury. For biology, while we know that multilegged animals (>2 legs: the overwhelming majority of them) routinely handle compliant surfaces, we don't know how these surfaces affect their stability or energetic consumption. This means we don't understand how the environment has shaped them throughout evolutionary history. Further, their mechanisms of dexterity on compliant surfaces remain an untapped source of bioinspiration. Thus the basic scientific results of this proposal have fundamental import in robotics, medicine, and biology.To reach these aims we require three things: 1) a way to specify and systematically vary the controller in a running multi-legged system; 2) a way to measure its stability and energy consumption; and 3) a way to search through the large space of possible controllers in a reasonable amount of time. This proposal will meet these challenges with a cross-displinary approach that integrates results from robotic and animal studies. The robot provides a platform in which the controller can be directly specified and systematically changed, while the stability and energetic consumption of it's motion can be readily measured (the on-board power management circuitry gives energy consumption directly). Because there are a huge number of ways to organize the control of multiple legs, we will use measurements of how trotting dogs adjust for compliant surfaces to guide how we vary the controller in the robot. Measurements of how dogs adjust for the compliant surface will be taken back to the robot, programmed into it's controller, and the effects of making those changes quantified in a real, moving system. This overcomes the problem with animal experiments that it is not known what control architecture the animals is actually using, as well as the limitation of using computer simulations to design controllers, which is that current models of foot contact are often so unrealistic that they can't be used to predict the behaviour of a real world robot or animal.We choose dogs because they are known to be agile, efficient runners, even in the face of a dynamic environment, and past research has shown that both dogs and the legged robot RHex have similar bouncing gaits. They can be safely challenged with a soft surface, and yet are large enough to measure the stability of their body and the motion of their individual limbs. Past insect and mathematical research has suggested that by acting as a point mass with an elastic spring leg actuated at the hip (the clock-torqued spring loaded inverted pendulum, or CT-SLIP), a multilegged system may be able to handle soft surfaces with simple, feedforward control. The robot will be programmed with this controller as a starting point, and the animal (a trotting dog) is known to behave in this manner on rigid surfaces.
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