The design of a robotic manipulator begins with the dimensioning of its various links to meet performance specifications. However, a methodology for the determination of the manipulator architecture, i.e., the fundamental geometry of the links, regardless of their shapes, is still lacking. Attempts have been made to apply the classical paradigms of linkage synthesis for motion generation, as in the Burmester Theory. The problem with this approach is that it relies on a specific task, described in the form of a discrete set of end-effector poses, which kills the very purpose of using robots, namely, their adaptability to a family of tasks. Another approach relies on the minimization of a condition number of the Jacobian matrix over the architectural parameters and the posture variables of the manipulator. This approach is not trouble-free either, for the matrices involved can have entries that bear different units, the matrix singular values thus being of disparate dimensions, which prevents the evaluation of any version of the condition number. As a means to cope with dimensional inhomogeneity, the concept of characteristic length was put forth. However, this concept has been slow in finding acceptance within the robotics community, probably because it lacks a direct geometric interpretation. In this paper the concept is revisited and put forward from a different point of view. In this vein, the concept of homogeneous space is introduced in order to relieve the designer from the concept of characteristic length. Within this space the link lengths are obtained as ratios, their optimum values as well as those of all angles involved being obtained by minimizing a condition number of the dimensionally homogeneous Jacobian. Further, a comparison between the condition number based on the two-norm and that based on the Frobenius norm is provided, where it is shown that the use of the Frobenius norm is more suitable for design purposes. Formulation of the inverse problem—obtaining link lengths—and the direct problem—obtaining the characteristic length of a given manipulator—are described. Finally a geometric interpretation of the characteristic length is provided. The application of the concept to the design and kinetostatic performance evaluation of serial robots is illustrated with examples.

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