Legged robots with point or small feet are nearly impossible to control instantaneously but are controllable over the time scale of one or more steps, also known as step-to-step control. Previous approaches achieve step-to-step control using optimization by (1) using the exact model obtained by integrating the equations of motion, or (2) using a linear approximation of the step-to-step dynamics. The former provides a large region of stability at the expense of a high computational cost while the latter is computationally cheap but offers limited region of stability. Our method combines the advantages of both. First, we generate input/output data by simulating a single step. Second, the input/output data is curve fitted using a regression model to get a closed-form approximation of the step-to-step dynamics. We do this model identification offline. Next, we use the regression model for online optimal control. Here, using the spring-load inverted pendulum model of hopping, we show that both parametric (polynomial and neural network) and non-parametric (gaussian process regression) approximations can adequately model the step-to-step dynamics. We then show this approach can stabilize a wide range of initial conditions fast enough to enable real-time control. Our results suggest that closed-form approximation of the step-to-step dynamics provides a simple accurate model for fast optimal control of legged robots.

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