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2020


Physical Variables Underlying Tactile Stickiness during Fingerpad Detachment
Physical Variables Underlying Tactile Stickiness during Fingerpad Detachment

Nam, S., Vardar, Y., Gueorguiev, D., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Frontiers in Neuroscience, 14(235):1-14, April 2020 (article)

Abstract
One may notice a relatively wide range of tactile sensations even when touching the same hard, flat surface in similar ways. Little is known about the reasons for this variability, so we decided to investigate how the perceptual intensity of light stickiness relates to the physical interaction between the skin and the surface. We conducted a psychophysical experiment in which nine participants actively pressed their finger on a flat glass plate with a normal force close to 1.5 N and detached it after a few seconds. A custom-designed apparatus recorded the contact force vector and the finger contact area during each interaction as well as pre- and post-trial finger moisture. After detaching their finger, participants judged the stickiness of the glass using a nine-point scale. We explored how sixteen physical variables derived from the recorded data correlate with each other and with the stickiness judgments of each participant. These analyses indicate that stickiness perception mainly depends on the pre-detachment pressing duration, the time taken for the finger to detach, and the impulse in the normal direction after the normal force changes sign; finger-surface adhesion seems to build with pressing time, causing a larger normal impulse during detachment and thus a more intense stickiness sensation. We additionally found a strong between-subjects correlation between maximum real contact area and peak pull-off force, as well as between finger moisture and impulse.

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link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


Learning to Predict Perceptual Distributions of Haptic Adjectives
Learning to Predict Perceptual Distributions of Haptic Adjectives

Richardson, B. A., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Frontiers in Neurorobotics, 13(116):1-16, Febuary 2020 (article)

Abstract
When humans touch an object with their fingertips, they can immediately describe its tactile properties using haptic adjectives, such as hardness and roughness; however, human perception is subjective and noisy, with significant variation across individuals and interactions. Recent research has worked to provide robots with similar haptic intelligence but was focused on identifying binary haptic adjectives, ignoring both attribute intensity and perceptual variability. Combining ordinal haptic adjective labels gathered from human subjects for a set of 60 objects with features automatically extracted from raw multi-modal tactile data collected by a robot repeatedly touching the same objects, we designed a machine-learning method that incorporates partial knowledge of the distribution of object labels into training; then, from a single interaction, it predicts a probability distribution over the set of ordinal labels. In addition to analyzing the collected labels (10 basic haptic adjectives) and demonstrating the quality of our method's predictions, we hold out specific features to determine the influence of individual sensor modalities on the predictive performance for each adjective. Our results demonstrate the feasibility of modeling both the intensity and the variation of haptic perception, two crucial yet previously neglected components of human haptic perception.

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DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Exercising with Baxter: Preliminary Support for Assistive Social-Physical Human-Robot Interaction

Fitter, N. T., Mohan, M., Kuchenbecker, K. J., Johnson, M. J.

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, 17(19), Febuary 2020 (article)

Abstract
Background: The worldwide population of older adults will soon exceed the capacity of assisted living facilities. Accordingly, we aim to understand whether appropriately designed robots could help older adults stay active at home. Methods: Building on related literature as well as guidance from experts in game design, rehabilitation, and physical and occupational therapy, we developed eight human-robot exercise games for the Baxter Research Robot, six of which involve physical human-robot contact. After extensive iteration, these games were tested in an exploratory user study including 20 younger adult and 20 older adult users. Results: Only socially and physically interactive games fell in the highest ranges for pleasantness, enjoyment, engagement, cognitive challenge, and energy level. Our games successfully spanned three different physical, cognitive, and temporal challenge levels. User trust and confidence in Baxter increased significantly between pre- and post-study assessments. Older adults experienced higher exercise, energy, and engagement levels than younger adults, and women rated the robot more highly than men on several survey questions. Conclusions: The results indicate that social-physical exercise with a robot is more pleasant, enjoyable, engaging, cognitively challenging, and energetic than similar interactions that lack physical touch. In addition to this main finding, researchers working in similar areas can build on our design practices, our open-source resources, and the age-group and gender differences that we found.

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DOI Project Page [BibTex]

DOI Project Page [BibTex]


Effective Viscous Damping Enables Morphological Computation in Legged Locomotion
Effective Viscous Damping Enables Morphological Computation in Legged Locomotion

Mo, A., Izzi, F., Haeufle, D. F. B., Badri-Spröwitz, A.

2020 (article) In revision

Abstract
Muscle models and animal observations suggest that physical damping is beneficial for stabilization. Still, only a few implementations of mechanical damping exist in compliant robotic legged locomotion. It remains unclear how physical damping can be exploited for locomotion tasks, while its advantages as sensor-free, adaptive force- and negative work-producing actuators are promising. In a simplified numerical leg model, we studied the energy dissipation from viscous and Coulomb damping during vertical drops with ground-level perturbations. A parallel spring-damper is engaged between touch-down and mid-stance, and its damper auto-disengages during mid-stance and takeoff. Our simulations indicate that an adjustable and viscous damper is desired. In hardware we explored effective viscous damping and adjustability and quantified the dissipated energy. We tested two mechanical, leg-mounted damping mechanisms; a commercial hydraulic damper, and a custom-made pneumatic damper. The pneumatic damper exploits a rolling diaphragm with an adjustable orifice, minimizing Coulomb damping effects while permitting adjustable resistance. Experimental results show that the leg-mounted, hydraulic damper exhibits the most effective viscous damping. Adjusting the orifice setting did not result in substantial changes of dissipated energy per drop, unlike adjusting damping parameters in the numerical model. Consequently, we also emphasize the importance of characterizing physical dampers during real legged impacts to evaluate their effectiveness for compliant legged locomotion.

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link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]


Trunk pitch oscillations for energy trade-offs in bipedal running birds and robots
Trunk pitch oscillations for energy trade-offs in bipedal running birds and robots

Drama, Ö., Badri-Spröwitz, A.

Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 2020 (article)

Abstract
Bipedal animals have diverse morphologies and advanced locomotion abilities. Terrestrial birds, in particular, display agile, efficient, and robust running motion, in which they exploit the interplay between the body segment masses and moment of inertias. On the other hand, most legged robots are not able to generate such versatile and energy-efficient motion and often disregard trunk movements as a means to enhance their locomotion capabilities. Recent research investigated how trunk motions affect the gait characteristics of humans, but there is a lack of analysis across different bipedal morphologies. To address this issue, we analyze avian running based on a spring-loaded inverted pendulum model with a pronograde (horizontal) trunk. We use a virtual point based control scheme and modify the alignment of the ground reaction forces to assess how our control strategy influences the trunk pitch oscillations and energetics of the locomotion. We derive three potential key strategies to leverage trunk pitch motions that minimize either the energy fluctuations of the center of mass or the work performed by the hip and leg. We suggest how these strategies could be used in legged robotics.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


Postural Stability in Human Running with Step-down Perturbations: An Experimental and Numerical Study
Postural Stability in Human Running with Step-down Perturbations: An Experimental and Numerical Study

Oezge Drama, , Johanna Vielemeyer, , Alexander Badri-Spröwitz, , Müller, R.

2020 (article) In revision

Abstract
Postural stability is one of the most crucial elements in bipedal locomotion. Bipeds are dynamically unstable and need to maintain their trunk upright against the rotations induced by the ground reaction forces (GRFs), especially when running. Gait studies report that the GRF vectors focus around a virtual point above the center of mass (VPA), while the trunk moves forward in pitch axis during the stance phase of human running. However, a recent simulation study suggests that a virtual point below the center of mass (VPB) might be present in human running, since a VPA yields backward trunk rotation during the stance phase. In this work, we perform a gait analysis to investigate the existence and location of the VP in human running at 5 m s−1, and support our findings numerically using the spring-loaded inverted pendulum model with a trunk (TSLIP). We extend our analysis to include perturbations in terrain height (visible and camouflaged), and investigate the response of the VP mechanism to step-down perturbations both experimentally and numerically. Our experimental results show that the human running gait displays a VPB of ≈ −30 cm and a forward trunk motion during the stance phase. The camouflaged step-down perturbations affect the location of the VPB. Our simulation results suggest that the VPB is able to encounter the step-down perturbations and bring the system back to its initial equilibrium state.

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link (url) [BibTex]

link (url) [BibTex]

2018


Softness, Warmth, and Responsiveness Improve Robot Hugs
Softness, Warmth, and Responsiveness Improve Robot Hugs

Block, A. E., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

International Journal of Social Robotics, 11(1):49-64, October 2018 (article)

Abstract
Hugs are one of the first forms of contact and affection humans experience. Due to their prevalence and health benefits, roboticists are naturally interested in having robots one day hug humans as seamlessly as humans hug other humans. This project's purpose is to evaluate human responses to different robot physical characteristics and hugging behaviors. Specifically, we aim to test the hypothesis that a soft, warm, touch-sensitive PR2 humanoid robot can provide humans with satisfying hugs by matching both their hugging pressure and their hugging duration. Thirty relatively young and rather technical participants experienced and evaluated twelve hugs with the robot, divided into three randomly ordered trials that focused on physical robot characteristics (single factor, three levels) and nine randomly ordered trials with low, medium, and high hug pressure and duration (two factors, three levels each). Analysis of the results showed that people significantly prefer soft, warm hugs over hard, cold hugs. Furthermore, users prefer hugs that physically squeeze them and release immediately when they are ready for the hug to end. Taking part in the experiment also significantly increased positive user opinions of robots and robot use.

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link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]

2018


link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Task-Driven PCA-Based Design Optimization of Wearable Cutaneous Devices

Pacchierotti, C., Young, E. M., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 3(3):2214-2221, July 2018, Presented at ICRA 2018 (article)

Abstract
Small size and low weight are critical requirements for wearable and portable haptic interfaces, making it essential to work toward the optimization of their sensing and actuation systems. This paper presents a new approach for task-driven design optimization of fingertip cutaneous haptic devices. Given one (or more) target tactile interactions to render and a cutaneous device to optimize, we evaluate the minimum number and best configuration of the device’s actuators to minimize the estimated haptic rendering error. First, we calculate the motion needed for the original cutaneous device to render the considered target interaction. Then, we run a principal component analysis (PCA) to search for possible couplings between the original motor inputs, looking also for the best way to reconfigure them. If some couplings exist, we can re-design our cutaneous device with fewer motors, optimally configured to render the target tactile sensation. The proposed approach is quite general and can be applied to different tactile sensors and cutaneous devices. We validated it using a BioTac tactile sensor and custom plate-based 3-DoF and 6-DoF fingertip cutaneous devices, considering six representative target tactile interactions. The algorithm was able to find couplings between each device’s motor inputs, proving it to be a viable approach to optimize the design of wearable and portable cutaneous devices. Finally, we present two examples of optimized designs for our 3-DoF fingertip cutaneous device.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


Teaching a Robot Bimanual Hand-Clapping Games via Wrist-Worn {IMU}s
Teaching a Robot Bimanual Hand-Clapping Games via Wrist-Worn IMUs

Fitter, N. T., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Frontiers in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, 5(85), July 2018 (article)

Abstract
Colleagues often shake hands in greeting, friends connect through high fives, and children around the world rejoice in hand-clapping games. As robots become more common in everyday human life, they will have the opportunity to join in these social-physical interactions, but few current robots are intended to touch people in friendly ways. This article describes how we enabled a Baxter Research Robot to both teach and learn bimanual hand-clapping games with a human partner. Our system monitors the user's motions via a pair of inertial measurement units (IMUs) worn on the wrists. We recorded a labeled library of 10 common hand-clapping movements from 10 participants; this dataset was used to train an SVM classifier to automatically identify hand-clapping motions from previously unseen participants with a test-set classification accuracy of 97.0%. Baxter uses these sensors and this classifier to quickly identify the motions of its human gameplay partner, so that it can join in hand-clapping games. This system was evaluated by N = 24 naïve users in an experiment that involved learning sequences of eight motions from Baxter, teaching Baxter eight-motion game patterns, and completing a free interaction period. The motion classification accuracy in this less structured setting was 85.9%, primarily due to unexpected variations in motion timing. The quantitative task performance results and qualitative participant survey responses showed that learning games from Baxter was significantly easier than teaching games to Baxter, and that the teaching role caused users to consider more teamwork aspects of the gameplay. Over the course of the experiment, people felt more understood by Baxter and became more willing to follow the example of the robot. Users felt uniformly safe interacting with Baxter, and they expressed positive opinions of Baxter and reported fun interacting with the robot. Taken together, the results indicate that this robot achieved credible social-physical interaction with humans and that its ability to both lead and follow systematically changed the human partner's experience.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


Oncilla robot: a versatile open-source quadruped research robot with compliant pantograph legs
Oncilla robot: a versatile open-source quadruped research robot with compliant pantograph legs

Sproewitz, A., Tuleu, A., Ajallooeian, M., Vespignani, M., Moeckel, R., Eckert, P., D’Haene, M., Degrave, J., Nordmann, A., Schrauwen, B., Steil, J., Ijspeert, A. J.

Frontiers in Robotics and AI, 5(67), June 2018, arXiv: 1803.06259 (article)

Abstract
We present Oncilla robot, a novel mobile, quadruped legged locomotion machine. This large-cat sized, 5.1 robot is one of a kind of a recent, bioinspired legged robot class designed with the capability of model-free locomotion control. Animal legged locomotion in rough terrain is clearly shaped by sensor feedback systems. Results with Oncilla robot show that agile and versatile locomotion is possible without sensory signals to some extend, and tracking becomes robust when feedback control is added (Ajaoolleian 2015). By incorporating mechanical and control blueprints inspired from animals, and by observing the resulting robot locomotion characteristics, we aim to understand the contribution of individual components. Legged robots have a wide mechanical and control design parameter space, and a unique potential as research tools to investigate principles of biomechanics and legged locomotion control. But the hardware and controller design can be a steep initial hurdle for academic research. To facilitate the easy start and development of legged robots, Oncilla-robot's blueprints are available through open-source. [...]

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link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]

link (url) DOI Project Page [BibTex]


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Automatically Rating Trainee Skill at a Pediatric Laparoscopic Suturing Task

Oquendo, Y. A., Riddle, E. W., Hiller, D., Blinman, T. A., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Surgical Endoscopy, 32(4):1840-1857, April 2018 (article)

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


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Immersive Low-Cost Virtual Reality Treatment for Phantom Limb Pain: Evidence from Two Cases

Ambron, E., Miller, A., Kuchenbecker, K. J., Buxbaum, L. J., Coslett, H. B.

Frontiers in Neurology, 9(67):1-7, 2018 (article)

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DOI Project Page [BibTex]

DOI Project Page [BibTex]