Minimally actuated walking: Identifying core challenges to economical legged locomotion reveals novel solutions
Terrestrial organisms adept at locomotion employ strut-like legs for economical and robust movement across the substrate. Although it is relatively easy to observe and analyze details of the solutions these organic systems have arrived at, it is not as easy to identify the problems these movement strategies have solved. As such, it is useful to investigate fundamental challenges that effective legged locomotion overcomes in order to understand why the mechanisms employed by biological systems provide viable solutions to these challenges. Such insight can inform the design and development of legged robots that may eventually match or exceed animal performance. In the context of human walking, we apply control optimization as a design strategy for simple bipedal walking machines with minimal actuation. This approach is used to discuss key facilitators of energetically efficient locomotion in simple bipedal walkers. Furthermore, we extrapolate the approach to a novel application—a theoretical exoskeleton attached to the trunk of a human walker—to demonstrate how coordinated efforts between bipedal actuation and a machine oscillator can potentially alleviate a meaningful portion of energetic exertion associated with leg function during human walking.