Advanced robotics requires a new generation of actuators able to exhibit a number of desirable characteristics ranging from high power density and high efficiency, high positioning resolution, high torque capacity and torsional stiffness, lightweight designs and low-cost packages. In this paper, we present the development and the experimental evaluation of a new actuator, aimed at improving the torque density and mechanical efficiency of actuated robotic joints, and enhancing the portability and effectiveness of robotic systems engaged in biomechanical applications such as rehabilitation robots and wearable exoskeletons. The new actuator, called the Gear Bearing Drive (GBD), consists of a two-stage planetary gear arrangement coupled through the planets and driven by an external rotor brushless motor that is inscribed within the input stage sun gear. This planetary configuration enables for incredible high-speed reductions and allows for embedding the motor directly within the gearbox saving significant space on the actuator length. Our initial experimental prototypes have demonstrated impressive performance with the potential to deliver more than 30Nm of continuous torque with 85% mechanical efficiency and 0.0005 degree of backlash, and up to 200 rpm maximum output speed in a highly compact and robust package.

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