Towards Agility: Definition, Benchmark and Design Considerations for Small, Quadrupedal Robots

Peter Eckert
Thèse EPFL

Agile quadrupedal locomotion in animals and robots is yet to be fully understood, quantified or achieved. An intuitive notion of agility exists, but neither a concise definition nor a common benchmark can be found. Further, it is unclear, what minimal level of mechatronic complexity is needed for this particular aspect of locomotion. In this thesis we address and partially answer two primary questions: (Q1) What is agile legged locomotion (agility) and how can wemeasure it? (Q2) How can wemake agile legged locomotion with a robot a reality? To answer our first question, we define agility for robot and animal alike, building a common ground for this particular component of locomotion and introduce quantitative measures to enhance robot evaluation and comparison. The definition is based on and inspired by features of agility observed in nature, sports, and suggested in robotics related publications. Using the results of this observational and literature review, we build a novel and extendable benchmark of thirteen different tasks that implement our vision of quantitatively classifying agility. All scores are calculated from simple measures, such as time, distance, angles and characteristic geometric values for robot scaling. We normalize all unit-less scores to reach comparability between different systems. An initial implementation with available robots and real agility-dogs as baseline finalize our effort of answering the first question. Bio-inspired designs introducing and benefiting from morphological aspects present in nature allowed the generation of fast, robust and energy efficient locomotion. We use engineering tools and interdisciplinary knowledge transferred from biology to build low-cost robots able to achieve a certain level of agility and as a result of this addressing our second question. This iterative process led to a series of robots from Lynx over Cheetah-Cub-S, Cheetah-Cub-AL, and Oncilla to Serval, a compliant robot with actuated spine, high range of motion in all joints. Serval presents a high level of mobility at medium speeds. With many successfully implemented skills, using a basic kinematics-duplication from dogs (copying the foot-trajectories of real animals and replaying themotion on the robot using a mathematical interpretation), we found strengths to emphasize, weaknesses to correct and made Serval ready for future attempts to achieve even more agile locomotion. We calculated Serval’s agility scores with the result of it performing better than any of its predecessors. Our small, safe and low-cost robot is able to execute up to 6 agility tasks out of 13 with the potential to reachmore after extended development. Concluding, we like to mention that Serval is able to cope with step-downs, smooth, bumpy terrain and falling orthogonally to the ground.

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