A muscle-like recruitment actuator with modular redundant actuation units for soft robotics

Glenn Mathijssen, Joshua Schultz, Bram Vanderborght, Antonio Bicchi

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19 Citations (Scopus)
321 Downloads (Pure)


Human muscles contrast sharply with traditional robot actuators in that they consist of several motor units, connected in series and parallel, which can be progressively recruited. Some roboticists have explored this idea in robotic actuators, striving for improvements such as the ability to withstand partial damage, inexpensive repeatability by discrete open loop control, the potential of modular actuators, etc. These systems, however, become rather complex or rely on less widely used actuation techniques such as piezo-actuators or SMAs to produce a compact implementation. This paper presents a novel design of a modular redundant actuation unit which can be combined in various combinations to form compliant actuators with varying characteristics. The actuation unit consists of discretely activated solenoids with an integrated compliant coupling. This paper presents the working principle and the physical implementation in detail. Failure of a single motor unit will merely lead to a loss in performance rather than failure of the actuator. Since each motor unit is discrete, neither power electronics nor control require analog signals. Isometric experiments display the actuation characteristics and demonstrate the repeatability. The platform can be used in future work to further explore the virtues of exploiting discretization and redundancy in muscle-like control.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-50
Number of pages11
JournalRobotics and Autonomous Systems
Issue numberPart A
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Discrete actuation
  • Modular motor units
  • Soft robotics
  • Redundant actuation


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