Illinois Spine wins 3rd Prize at ECCE Student Demo Competition



Illinois Spine team
Illinois Spine team
Led by ECE ILLINOIS Assistant Professor Arijit Banerjee, a team of ECE ILLINOIS and MechSe students, Bonhyun Ku and Sunyu Wang, recently participated in the 2019 IEEE Energy Conversion Congress and Exposition (ECCE) Student Project Demo Competition and won third place for their project with the Illinois Spine. ECCE is the foremost IEEE conference in the field of electrical and electromechanical energy conversion. The Illinois Spine is a distributed electromechanical actuator that emulates the biological spine and its associated muscles.

The goal of their project was to show design considerations and applications of power electronics and electromechanics in the emerging area of robotics. Their research objective was to create a distributed electromechanical actuator and its power network that emulated a biological spine.

"The way the team members helped each other to come to such a multidisciplinary solution is spectacular to watch," said Banerjee.

A spine and its muscular system are remarkably different from other standard robotic mechanisms (e.g. arms and legs) due to the presence of a multiplicity of single-joint segments with a tiny range of motion. The team's bio-inspired synthetic spine consisted of several series-stacked modular actuators each with integrated power electronics.

From a power electronics drive perspective, the key design challenges included limited available space for integration, thermal management, and power sharing among different modules. From an actuator perspective, the new design space lends itself for easy co-design using fundamental principles of electromechanics and spring designs. The approach allows for high torque-density, efficient and compliant actuators that can enable a wide range of applications including in creating new prosthetics, exoskeletons, bio-inspired robots, and other biomedical applications.

"Animals have the innate capability to move and maneuver effectively in complex and unstructured environments. The mission to transfer this capability to man-made systems has led to the design of many bio-inspired robots and automated systems of various shapes and forms," said Banerjee. 

"Our vision is to create a distributed electromechanical actuator with integrated power electronics that provide functionalities of a biological spine and its muscular system. This demo is an example of such a distributed actuation mechanisms and its associated excitation system."

Recent advances in bio-inspired robots have conceptualized collaborative robots or cobots, which will help and interact with humans in multiple settings. The scientific community expects that these synthetic partners will increase human efficiency, productivity, and safety in manufacturing, disaster response, health care, and education. 

One of their papers detailing the concept has already been published at the 2019 IEEE International Electric Machines and Drives Conference in San Diego, California and an upcoming paper will be published at the 2019 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Macau, China.