Design of smart modular variable stiffness actuators for robotic assistive devices

Victor Grosu, Carlos David Rodriguez Guerrero, Branko Brackx, Svetlana Grosu, Bram Vanderborght, Dirk Lefeber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Citations (Scopus)


Sensors and actuators are the core components of all mechatronic systems used in a broad range of diverse applications. A relatively new and rapidly evolving area is the one of rehabilitation and assistive devices that comes to support and improve the quality of human life. Novel exoskeletons have to address many functional and cost-sensitive issues such as safety, adaptability, customization, modularity, scalability, and maintenance. Therefore, a smart variable stiffness actuator was developed. The described approach was to integrate in one modular unit a compliant actuator with all sensors and electronics required for real-time communications and control. This paper also introduces a new method to estimate and control the actuator's torques without using dedicated expensive torque sensors in conditions where the actuator's torsional stiffness can be adjusted by the user. A 6-degrees-of-freedom exoskeleton was assembled and tested using the technology described in this paper, and is introduced as a real-life case study for the mechatronic design, modularity, and integration of the proposed smart actuators, suitable for human-robot interaction. The advantages are discussed together with possible improvements and the possibility of extending the presented technology to other areas of mechatronics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7929351
Pages (from-to)1777-1785
Number of pages9
JournalIEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Compliant actuation
  • exoskeletons
  • flexRay
  • rehabilitation robotics
  • smart actuator
  • variable stiffness actuator


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