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Limbless Locomotion: Learning to Crawl with a Snake Robot

Submitted in partial fulllment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Robotics Kevin J. Dowling Advised by William L. Whittaker The Robotics Institute Carnegie Mellon University 5000 Forbes Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15213 December 1997 This research was supported in part by NASA Graduate Fellowships 1994, 1995 and 1996. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the ofcial policies, either expressed or implied, of NASA or the U.S. Government.

1997 by Kevin Dowling.

Limbless Locomotion: Learning to CrawlSnake robots that learn to locomoteSubmitted in partial fulllment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Robotics by Kevin Dowling The Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 Robots can locomote using body motions; not wheels or legs. Natural analogues, such as snakes, although capable of such locomotion, are understood only in a qualitative sense and the detailed mechanics, sensing and control of snake motions are not well understood. Historically, mobile vehicles for terrestrial use have either been wheeled, tracked or legged. Prior art reveals several serpentine locomotor efforts, but there is little in the way of practical mechanisms and exible control for limbless locomoting devices. Those mechanisms that exist in the laboratory exhibit only the rough features of natural limbless locomotors such as snakes. The motivation for this work stems from environments where traditional machines are precluded due to size or shape and where appendages such as wheels or legs cause entrapment or failure. Example environments include tight spaces, long narrow interior traverses, and movement over loose materials and terrains. Several applications, including industrial inspection and exploration of hazardous environments, compel serpentine robots. This research develops a general framework for teaching a complex electromechanical robot to become mobile where sequences of body motions alone provide progression. The framework incorporates a learning technique, physical modeling, metrics for evaluation, and the transfer of results to a snake-like mobile robot. The mechanism and control of a 20 degree of freedom snake robot is described and multiple gaits are demonstrated including novel non-biological gaits. This research furthers the design and control of limbless robots.

1997 by Kevin Dowling

We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the rst time T.S. Eliot

AcknowledgmentsResearch is hard but involves great joy as well. The greatest of joys has been working with the people here at CMU. An observer might have thought I was working alone but the critical mass of people here in the Robotics Institute meant that I could always nd the help and encouragement on all issues. Red - Friend, mentor, and force of nature. Thank you Red. Hans Moravec - Once upon a time, Hans hired yours truly, an eager but inexperienced undergrad, to help build his robots. Hans always has a fresh perspective, new insight, and a wonderful way of looking at things. I will dearly miss the discussions. Mike Blackwell - Friend and ofcemate of fteen years, Mike understands the combination of hardware and software better than anyone I know and has been an invaluable help in answering a zillion questions over the years. Thanks Mike. John Bares - John, Your review, help and advice and friendship have been invaluable. Dave Wettergreen - The clearest of voices, the best of reviewers and good friend. Dave Simon - Always weighing possibilities and thinking out issues. Thanks for the advice and support over the years. Hagen Schempf - A potent combination of enthusiasm, talent and experience. Thanks Hagen, for advising, helping and making things happen. Ben Brown - The best designer I know, and a sounding board on many technical issues herein including metrics and design. Chris Leger - A remarkable programmer and Quake enthusiast. Chris developed a software toolkit that I used in this work. Anton Staaf - A remarkable undergrad who is destined to do great things. Thanks for the caterpillar and the discussions, Anton. Sundar Vedula, David Baraff, Martial Hebert, Andrew Moore, Howie Choset and Joel Burdick all provided advice and insights into several areas of this research. I greatly appreciate their time, perspectives and assistance.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Tony Nolla, Jesse Eusades and Dave Vehec for their assistance on some wiring and drawings. Thanks also to Takeo and Raj who have also advised, mentored, and supported me through the years. Its been an enormous and benecial inuence. The members of the Field Robotics Center, the Robotics Institute, and friends throughout Carnegie Mellon. This is the best place in the world for robot research. Most of all, Mary Jo and Ashlinn, and our most recent research project: Aidan. Your love, support, advice and understanding are monumental. I love you.

Contents

Overview and Rationale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3Introduction Why Serpentine Locomotion? Applications Challenges of Limbless Locomotion Summary 3 5 9 12 12

Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13Biological Systems Whats Missing? Robotic Systems Learning Summary 13 20 20 32 34

Framework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37Overview 37

Performance Metrics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43Metrics Efficiency Dimensionless Metrics Scale Summary and Selection 43 44 49 53 55

Learning and Optimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57Optimization Techniques Representation Summary 57 61 67

i

Implementation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69Actuation Design Electronics Sensing Other Subsystems Experimental Setup Physical Modeling Summary 69 77 87 89 90 92 93 94

Locomotion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97Power Calculations Units Velocity Calculations Gaits Summary 97 100 101 101 119

Summary and Conclusions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121Contributions Future Work Wisdom 121 122 123

Servo Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125

Link Weight Distribution. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127

Derivation of Actuator Parameters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135

Chapter 1 Overview and RationaleOverview and Rationale proles the content of this dissertation and examines the rationale

for serpentine robots and their application. This chapter offers strong motivation for serpentine mechanisms; this includes the advantages and disadvantages of serpentine locomotion as well as application areas where such mechanisms can make a powerful impact. Introduction 1.1 Biological snakes are pervasive across the planet; their diverse locomotion modes and physiology make them supremely adapted for the wide variety of terrains, environments and climates that they inhabit. It would be wonderful to capture these broad features of movement and capability in man-made equivalents. While wheeled and walking machines have undergone decades, even centuries, of development, they are still limited in the types of terrain they can traverse. A snake-like device that could slide, glide and slither could open up many applications in exploration, hazardous environments, inspection and medical interventions. Serpentine robots have a number of useful features and applications, are fascinating to observe, and may answer questions about biological equivalents. One of the fundamental issues is understanding their locomotion. In a qualitative sense, propulsion with wheels or legs is more readily apparent and understandable versus the movement of limbless locomotors. A wheel turns; the vehicle moves. A leg pushes; the vehicle moves. How a snake moves is not so evident. This dissertation addresses robots that crawl and slither without the use of wheels or legs; where body motions alone enable progression. A worthwhile snake robot has the ability to wriggle into conned areas and traverse terrain that would pose problems for traditional wheeled or legged robots. The useful3

Overview and Rationale

features of snake robots include stability, terrainability, good traction, high redundancy and completely sealed mechanisms. Robots with these properties open up several critical applications in exploration, reconnaissance, medicine and inspection. This research creates a robot snake that can locomote in novel ways, develops a framework for teaching the snake to locomote and also develops and integrates the many technologies required to make this happen. The research culminates in the demonstration of an effective mechanism and the en