Project

Hybrid Locomotion: Exploiting the Advantages of Wheeled-Legged Robots on Varying Terrain

Goal: Traditional legged robots are capable of traversing challenging terrain, but lack of energy efficiency when compared to wheeled systems operating on flat environments. The combination of both locomotion domains overcomes the trade-off between mobility and efficiency. Therefore, we present a novel motion planner and controller which together enable a legged robot equipped with passive or powered wheels to perform hybrid locomotion, represented by an appropriate combination of driving and stepping maneuvers.

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Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
Our paper proposes a model predictive controller as a single-task formulation that simultaneously optimizes wheel and torso motions. This online joint velocity and ground reaction force optimization integrates a kinodynamic model of a wheeled quadrupedal robot. It defines the single rigid body dynamics along with the robot's kinematics while treating the wheels as moving ground contacts. With this approach, we can accurately capture the robot's rolling constraint and dynamics, enabling automatic discovery of hybrid maneuvers without needless motion heuristics. The formulation's generality through the simultaneous optimization over the robot's whole-body variables allows for a single set of parameters and makes online gait sequence adaptation possible. Aperiodic gait sequences are automatically found through kinematic leg utilities without the need for predefined contact and lift-off timings, reducing the cost of transport by up to 85%. Our experiments demonstrate dynamic motions on a quadrupedal robot with non-steerable wheels in challenging indoor and outdoor environments. The paper's findings contribute to evaluating a decomposed, i.e., sequential optimization of wheel and torso motion, and single-task motion planner with a novel quantity, the prediction error, which describes how well a receding horizon planner can predict the robot’s future state. To this end, we report an improvement of up to 71% using our proposed single-task approach, making fast locomotion feasible and revealing wheeled-legged robots' full potential.
Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
Wheeled-legged robots are an attractive solution for versatile locomotion in challenging terrain. They combine the speed and efficiency of wheels with the ability of legs to traverse challenging terrain. In this paper, we present a trajectory optimization formulation for wheeled-legged robots that optimizes over the base and wheels' positions and forces and takes into account the terrain information while computing the plans. This enables us to find optimal driving motions over challenging terrain. The robot is modeled as a single rigid-body, which allows us to plan complex motions and still keep a low computational complexity to solve the optimization quickly. The terrain map, together with the use of a stability constraint, allows the optimizer to generate feasible motions that cannot be discovered without taking the terrain information into account. The optimization is formulated as a Nonlinear Programming (NLP) problem and the reference motions are tracked by a hierarchical whole-body controller that computes the torque actuation commands for the robot. The trajectories have been experimentally verified on quadrupedal robot ANYmal equipped with non-steerable torque-controlled wheels. Our trajectory optimization framework enables wheeled quadrupedal robots to drive over challenging terrain, e.g., steps, slopes, stairs, while negotiating these obstacles with dynamic motions.
Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
Wheeled-legged robots have the potential for highly agile and versatile locomotion. The combination of legs and wheels might be a solution for any real-world application requiring rapid, and long-distance mobility skills on challenging terrain. In this paper, we present an online trajectory optimization framework for wheeled quadrupedal robots capable of executing hybrid walking-driving locomotion strategies. By breaking down the optimization problem into a wheel and base trajectory planning, locomotion planning for high dimensional wheeled-legged robots becomes more tractable, can be solved in real-time on-board in a model predictive control fashion, and becomes robust against unpredicted disturbances. The reference motions are tracked by a hierarchical whole-body controller that sends torque commands to the robot. Our approach is verified on a quadrupedal robot with non-steerable wheels attached to its legs. The robot performs hybrid locomotion with a great variety of gait sequences on rough terrain. Besides, we validated the robotic platform at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean Challenge, where the robot rapidly mapped, navigated and explored dynamic underground environments.
Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
Wheeled-legged robots have the potential for highly agile and versatile locomotion. The combination of legs and wheels might be a solution for any real-world application requiring rapid, and long-distance mobility skills on challenging terrain. In this paper, we present an online trajectory optimization framework for wheeled quadrupedal robots capable of executing hybrid walking-driving locomotion strategies. By breaking down the optimization problem into a wheel and base trajectory planning, locomotion planning for high dimensional wheeled-legged robots becomes more tractable, can be solved in real-time on-board in a model predictive control fashion, and becomes robust against unpredicted disturbances. The reference motions are tracked by a hierarchical whole-body controller that sends torque commands to the robot. Our approach is verified on a quadrupedal robot with non-steerable wheels attached to its legs. The robot performs hybrid locomotion with a great variety of gait sequences on rough terrain. Besides, we validated the robotic platform at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean Challenge, where the robot rapidly mapped, navigated and explored dynamic underground environments.
Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
We show dynamic locomotion strategies for wheeled quadrupedal robots, which combine the advantages of both walking and driving. The developed optimization framework tightly integrates the additional degrees of freedom introduced by the wheels. Our approach relies on a zero-moment point based motion optimization which continuously updates reference trajec-tories. The reference motions are tracked by a hierarchical whole-body controller which computes optimal generalized accelerations and contact forces by solving a sequence of prioritized tasks including the nonholonomic rolling constraints. Our approach has been tested on ANYmal, a quadrupedal robot that is fully torque-controlled including the non-steerable wheels attached to its legs. We conducted experiments on flat and inclined terrains as well as over steps, whereby we show that integrating the wheels into the motion control and planning framework results in intuitive motion trajectories, which enable more robust and dynamic locomotion compared to other wheeled-legged robots. Moreover, with a speed of 4 m/s and a reduction of the cost of transport by 83 % we prove the superiority of wheeled-legged robots compared to their legged counterparts.
Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
We present a trajectory optimizer for quadrupedal robots with actuated wheels. By solving for angular, vertical, and planar components of the base and feet trajectories in a cascaded fashion and by introducing a novel linear formulation of the zero-moment point (ZMP) balance criterion, we rely on quadratic programming only, thereby eliminating the need for nonlinear optimization routines. Yet, even for gaits containing full flight phases, we are able to generate trajectories for executing complex motions that involve simultaneous driving, walking, and turning. We verified our approach in simulations of the quadrupedal robot ANYmal equipped with wheels, where we are able to run the proposed trajectory optimizer at 50 Hz. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such dynamic motions are demonstrated for wheeled-legged quadrupedal robots using an online motion planner.
Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
The invention of the wheel is one of the major technological advances of humankind. In daily life, it enables us to move faster and more efficiently compared to leg-based locomotion. However, the latter is more versatile and offers the possibility to negotiate challenging environments. Combining both strategies into one system offers great possibilities to achieve the best of both worlds. Therefore, we equipped our quadrupedal robot ANYmal with non-steerable, torque-controlled wheels to overcome the trade-off between mobility and efficiency. We believe that such kinds of systems offer the solution for many robotic tasks, e.g., rapid exploration, payload delivery, search and rescue, and industrial inspection.
Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
We show dynamic locomotion strategies for wheeled quadrupedal robots, which combine the advantages of both walking and driving. The developed optimization framework tightly integrates the additional degrees of freedom introduced by the wheels. Our approach relies on a zero-moment point based motion optimization which continuously updates reference trajectories. The reference motions are tracked by a hierarchical whole-body controller which computes optimal generalized accelerations and contact forces by solving a sequence of prioritized tasks including the nonholonomic rolling constraints. Our approach has been tested on ANYmal, a quadrupedal robot that is fully torque-controlled including the non-steerable wheels attached to its legs. We conducted experiments on flat and inclined terrains as well as over steps, whereby we show that integrating the wheels into the motion control and planning framework results in intuitive motion trajectories, which enable more robust and dynamic locomotion compared to other wheeled-legged robots. Moreover, with a speed of 4 m/s and a reduction of the cost of transport by 83 % we prove the superiority of wheeled-legged robots compared to their legged counterparts.
Marko Bjelonic
added a research item
Traditional legged robots are capable of traversing challenging terrain, but lack of energy efficiency when compared to wheeled systems operating on flat environments. The combination of both locomotion domains overcomes the trade-off between mobility and efficiency. Therefore, this paper presents a novel motion planner and controller which together enable a legged robot equipped with skates to perform skating maneuvers. These are achieved by an appropriate combination of planned reaction forces and gliding motions. Our novel motion controller formulates a Virtual Model Controller and an optimal contact force distribution which takes into account the nonholonomic constraints introduced by the skates. This approach has been tested on the torque-controllable robot ANYmal equipped with passive wheels and ice skates as end-effectors. We conducted experiments on flat and inclined terrain, whereby we show that skating motions reduces the cost of transport by up to 80 % with respect to traditional walking gaits.
Marko Bjelonic
added a project goal
Traditional legged robots are capable of traversing challenging terrain, but lack of energy efficiency when compared to wheeled systems operating on flat environments. The combination of both locomotion domains overcomes the trade-off between mobility and efficiency. Therefore, we present a novel motion planner and controller which together enable a legged robot equipped with passive or powered wheels to perform hybrid locomotion, represented by an appropriate combination of driving and stepping maneuvers.