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2020


Virtual Point Control for Step-down Perturbations and Downhill Slopes in Bipedal Running
Virtual Point Control for Step-down Perturbations and Downhill Slopes in Bipedal Running

Drama, Ö., Badri-Spröwitz, A.

Frontiers in Bioengineering Biotechnology, Bionics and Biomimetics, November 2020 (article) Accepted

Abstract
Bipedal running is a difficult task to realize in robots, since the trunk is underactuated and control is limited by intermittent ground contacts. Stabilizing the trunk becomes even more challenging if the terrain is uneven and causes perturbations. One bio-inspired method to achieve postural stability is the virtual point (VP) control, which is able to generate natural motion. However, so far it has only been studied for level running. In this work, we investigate whether the VP control method can accommodate single step-down perturbations and downhill terrains. We provide guidelines on the model and controller parameterizations for handling varying terrain conditions. Next, we show that the VP method is able to stabilize single step-down perturbations up to 40 cm, and downhill grades up to 20-10° corresponding to running speeds of 2-5 m/s. Our results show that the VP approach leads to asymmetrically bounded ground reaction forces for downhill running, unlike the commonly-used symmetric friction cone constraints. Overall, VP control is a promising candidate for terrain-adaptive running control of bipedal robots.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

2020


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

Drama, Ö., Vielemeyer, J., Badri-Spröwitz, A., Müller, R.

Royal Society Open Science, 7, November 2020 (article)

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) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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Sampling on networks: estimating spectral centrality measures and their impact in evaluating other relevant network measures

Ruggeri, N., De Bacco, C.

Applied Network Science, 5:81, October 2020 (article)

Abstract
We perform an extensive analysis of how sampling impacts the estimate of several relevant network measures. In particular, we focus on how a sampling strategy optimized to recover a particular spectral centrality measure impacts other topological quantities. Our goal is on one hand to extend the analysis of the behavior of TCEC [Ruggeri2019], a theoretically-grounded sampling method for eigenvector centrality estimation. On the other hand, to demonstrate more broadly how sampling can impact the estimation of relevant network properties like centrality measures different than the one aimed at optimizing, community structure and node attribute distribution. Finally, we adapt the theoretical framework behind TCEC for the case of PageRank centrality and propose a sampling algorithm aimed at optimizing its estimation. We show that, while the theoretical derivation can be suitably adapted to cover this case, the resulting algorithm suffers of a high computational complexity that requires further approximations compared to the eigenvector centrality case.

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Code Preprint pdf DOI [BibTex]


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Optimal transport for multi-commodity routing on networks

Lonardi, A., Facca, E., Putti, M., De Bacco, C.

October 2020 (article) Submitted

Abstract
We present a model for finding optimal multi-commodity flows on networks based on optimal transport theory. The model relies on solving a dynamical system of equations. We prove that its stationary solution is equivalent to the solution of an optimization problem that generalizes the one-commodity framework. In particular, it generalizes previous results in terms of optimality, scaling, and phase transitions obtained in the one-commodity case. Remarkably, for a suitable range of parameters, the optimal topologies have loops. This is radically different to the one-commodity case, where within an analogous parameter range the optimal topologies are trees. This important result is a consequence of the extension of Kirkchoff's law to the multi-commodity case, which enforces the distinction between fluxes of the different commodities. Our results provide new insights into the nature and properties of optimal network topologies. In particular, they show that loops can arise as a consequence of distinguishing different flow types, and complement previous results where loops, in the one-commodity case, were arising as a consequence of imposing dynamical rules to the sources and sinks or when enforcing robustness to damage. Finally, we provide an efficient implementation for each of the two equivalent numerical frameworks, both of which achieve a computational complexity that is more efficient than that of standard optimization methods based on gradient descent. As a result, our model is not merely abstract but can be efficiently applied to large datasets. We give an example of concrete application by studying the network of the Paris metro.

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Code Preprint [BibTex]


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Community detection with node attributes in multilayer networks

Contisciani, M., Power, E. A., De Bacco, C.

Nature Scientific Reports, 10, pages: 15736, September 2020 (article)

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Code Preprint pdf [BibTex]

Code Preprint pdf [BibTex]


A little damping goes a long way: a simulation study of how damping influences task-level stability in running
A little damping goes a long way: a simulation study of how damping influences task-level stability in running

Heim, S., Millard, M., Mouel, C. L., Badri-Spröwitz, A.

Biology Letters, 16(9), September 2020 (article)

Abstract
It is currently unclear if damping plays a functional role in legged locomotion, and simple models often do not include damping terms. We present a new model with a damping term that is isolated from other parameters: that is, the damping term can be adjusted without retuning other model parameters for nominal motion. We systematically compare how increased damping affects stability in the face of unexpected ground-height perturbations. Unlike most studies, we focus on task-level stability: instead of observing whether trajectories converge towards a nominal limit-cycle, we quantify the ability to avoid falls using a recently developed mathematical measure. This measure allows trajectories to be compared quantitatively instead of only being separated into a binary classification of ‘stable' or ‘unstable'. Our simulation study shows that increased damping contributes significantly to task-level stability; however, this benefit quickly plateaus after only a small amount of damping. These results suggest that the low intrinsic damping values observed experimentally may have stability benefits and are not simply minimized for energetic reasons. All Python code and data needed to generate our results are available open source.

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link (url) DOI [BibTex]

link (url) DOI [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.

Frontiers Robots and Ai, 7:110, August 2020 (article)

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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Youtube link (url) DOI [BibTex]

Youtube link (url) DOI [BibTex]


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]


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, 15(3), March 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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Youtube Video link (url) DOI [BibTex]

Youtube Video link (url) DOI [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]


Compensating for Fingertip Size to Render Tactile Cues More Accurately
Compensating for Fingertip Size to Render Tactile Cues More Accurately

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

IEEE Transactions on Haptics, 13(1):144-151, January 2020, Katherine J. Kuchenbecker and Claudio Pacchierotti contributed equally to this publication. (article)

Abstract
Fingertip haptic feedback offers advantages in many applications, including robotic teleoperation, gaming, and training. However, fingertip size and shape vary significantly across humans, making it difficult to design fingertip interfaces and rendering techniques suitable for everyone. This article starts with an existing data-driven haptic rendering algorithm that ignores fingertip size, and it then develops two software-based approaches to personalize this algorithm for fingertips of different sizes using either additional data or geometry. We evaluate our algorithms in the rendering of pre-recorded tactile sensations onto rubber casts of six different fingertips as well as onto the real fingertips of 13 human participants. Results on the casts show that both approaches significantly improve performance, reducing force error magnitudes by an average of 78% with respect to the standard non-personalized rendering technique. Congruent results were obtained for real fingertips, with subjects rating each of the two personalized rendering techniques significantly better than the standard non-personalized method.

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DOI [BibTex]

DOI [BibTex]


Getting in Touch with Children with Autism: Specialist Guidelines for a Touch-Perceiving Robot
Getting in Touch with Children with Autism: Specialist Guidelines for a Touch-Perceiving Robot

Burns, R. B., Seifi, H., Lee, H., Kuchenbecker, K. J.

Paladyn. Journal of Behavioral Robotics, 2020 (article) Accepted

Abstract
Children with autism need innovative solutions that help them learn to master everyday experiences and cope with stressful situations. We propose that socially assistive robot companions could better understand and react to a child’s needs if they utilized tactile sensing. We examined the existing relevant literature to create an initial set of six tactile-perception requirements, and we then evaluated these requirements through interviews with 11 experienced autism specialists from a variety of backgrounds. Thematic analysis of the comments shared by the specialists revealed three overarching themes: the touch-seeking and touch-avoiding behavior of autistic children, their individual differences and customization needs, and the roles that a touch-perceiving robot could play in such interactions. Using the interview study feedback, we refined our initial list into seven qualitative requirements that describe robustness and maintainability, sensing range, feel, gesture identification, spatial, temporal, and adaptation attributes for the touch-perception system of a robot companion for children with autism. Lastly, by utilizing the literature and current best practices in tactile sensor development and signal processing, we transformed these qualitative requirements into quantitative specifications. We discuss the implications of these requirements for future HRI research in the sensing, computing, and user research communities.

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Project Page [BibTex]


Electronics, Software and Analysis of a Bioinspired Sensorized Quadrupedal Robot
Electronics, Software and Analysis of a Bioinspired Sensorized Quadrupedal Robot

Petereit, R.

Technische Universität München, 2020 (mastersthesis)

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[BibTex]


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Network extraction by routing optimization

Baptista, T. D., Leite, D., Facca, E., Putti, M., De Bacco, C.

2020 (article) In revision

Abstract
Routing optimization is a relevant problem in many contexts. Solving directly this type of optimization problem is often computationally unfeasible. Recent studies suggest that one can instead turn this problem into one of solving a dynamical system of equations, which can instead be solved efficiently using numerical methods. This results in enabling the acquisition of optimal network topologies from a variety of routing problems. However, the actual extraction of the solution in terms of a final network topology relies on numerical details which can prevent an accurate investigation of their topological properties. In this context, theoretical results are fully accessible only to an expert audience and ready-to-use implementations for non-experts are rarely available or insufficiently documented. In particular, in this framework, final graph acquisition is a challenging problem in-and-of-itself. Here we introduce a method to extract networks topologies from dynamical equations related to routing optimization under various parameters’ settings. Our method is made of three steps: first, it extracts an optimal trajectory by solving a dynamical system, then it pre-extracts a network and finally, it filters out potential redundancies. Remarkably, we propose a principled model to address the filtering in the last step, and give a quantitative interpretation in terms of a transport-related cost function. This principled filtering can be applied to more general problems such as network extraction from images, thus going beyond the scenarios envisioned in the first step. Overall, this novel algorithm allows practitioners to easily extract optimal network topologies by combining basic tools from numerical methods, optimization and network theory. Thus, we provide an alternative to manual graph extraction which allows a grounded extraction from a large variety of optimal topologies.

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Code Preprint [BibTex]