Collision-based expenditure of mechanical energy and the compliance and geometry of the leg are fundamental, interrelated considerations in the mechanical design of legged runners. This article provides a basic context and rationale for experiments designed to inform each of these key areas in Boston Dynamic's BigDog robot. Although these principles have been investigated throughout the past few decades within different academic disciplines, BigDog required that they be considered together and in concert with an impressive set of control algorithms that are not discussed here. Although collision reduction is an important strategy for reducing mechanical cost of transport in the slowest and fastest quadrupedal gaits, walking and galloping, BigDog employed an intermediate-speed trotting gait without collision reduction. Trotting, instead, uses a spring-loaded inverted pendulum mechanism with potential for storage and return of elastic strain energy in appropriately compliant structures. Rather than tuning BigDog's built-in leg springs according to a spring-mass model-based virtual leg-spring constant , a much stiffer distal leg spring together with actuation of the adjacent joint provided good trotting dynamics and avoided functional limitations that might have been imposed by too much compliance in real-world terrain. Adjusting the directional compliance of the legs by adopting a knee-forward, elbow-back geometry led to more robust trotting dynamics by reducing perturbations about the pitch axis of the robot's center of mass (CoM). BigDog is the most successful large-scale, all-terrain trotting machine built to date and it continues to stimulate our understanding of legged locomotion in comparative biomechanics as well as in robotics.
Lee, David VBiewener, Andrew AengComparative StudyResearch Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.England2011/06/11 06:00Integr Comp Biol. 2011 Jul;51(1):190-202. doi: 10.1093/icb/icr061. Epub 2011 Jun 9.