The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has been developing a space-rated 7 degree of freedom (DOF) robot arm with a high payload-to-mass ratio as an alternative design to motor-gear driven robotic manipulators. The robot arm employs antagonistic pairs of pneumatic artificial muscle (PAM) actuators to control each degree-of-freedom (DOF) to achieve large force outputs relative to the PAM component masses. A novel feature of the NRL PAM actuator was the integration of the pneumatic control components inside the pressure-bladder, which not only reduces the volume of the robotic arm hardware but also reduces the pressurized-gas actuation volume in the PAM enabling significant reductions in gas consumption during actuation. This multifunctional design enables reductions in launch-weight costs and increases in operational endurance for space applications. The integration of these PAMs into a well-designed robotic-arm structure, in tandem with a newly developed control algorithm, has the potential to exceed the performance metrics of traditional motor-driven robot arms. This paper describes the development of the improved efficiency PAM design that is advancing this technology towards space flight readiness.

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