Article: Bryant M, Meller MA, Garcia E; (2014) Variable Recruitment Fluidic Artificial Muscles: Modeling and Experiments, Smart Materials and Structures, 23(7)
Abstract: We investigate taking advantage of the lightweight, compliant nature of fluidic artificial muscles to create variable recruitment actuators in the form of artificial muscle bundles. Several actuator elements at different diameter scales are packaged to act as a single actuator device. The actuator elements of the bundle can be connected to the fluidic control circuit so that different groups of actuator elements, much like individual muscle fibers, can be activated independently depending on the required force output and motion. This novel actuation concept allows us to save energy by effectively impedance matching the active size of the actuators on the fly based on the instantaneous required load. This design also allows a single bundled actuator to operate in substantially different force regimes, which could be valuable for robots that need to perform a wide variety of tasks and interact safely with humans. This paper proposes, models and analyzes the actuation efficiency of this actuator concept. The analysis shows that variable recruitment operation can create an actuator that reduces throttling valve losses to operate more efficiently over a broader range of its force-strain operating space. We also present preliminary results of the design, fabrication and experimental characterization of three such bioinspired variable recruitment actuator prototypes.