Variable stiffness manipulators balance the trade-off between manipulation performance needing high stiffness and safe human–robot interaction desiring low stiffness. Variable stiffness links enable this flexible manipulation function during human–robot interaction. In this paper, we propose a novel variable stiffness link based on discrete variable stiffness units (DSUs). A DSU is a parallel guided beam that can adjust stiffness discretely by changing the cross-sectional area properties of the hollow beam segments. The variable stiffness link (Tri-DSU) consists of three tandem DSUs to achieve eight stiffness modes and a stiffness ratio of 31. To optimize the design, stiffness analysis of the DSU and Tri-DSU under various configurations and forces was performed by a derived linear analytical model which applies to small/intermediate deflections. The model is derived using the approach of serially connected beams and superposition combinations. 3D-Printed prototypes were built to verify the feature and performance of the Tri-DSU in comparison with the finite element analysis and analytical model results. It’s demonstrated that our model can accurately predict the stiffnesses of the DSU and Tri-DSU within a certain range of parameters. Impact tests were also conducted to validate the performance of the Tri-DSU. The developed method and analytical model are extendable to multiple DSUs with parameter configurations to achieve modularization and customization, and also provide a tool for the design of reconfigurable collaborative robot (cobot) manipulators.
Journal of Mechanisms and Robotics Open Issues