Abstract: Passive elastic elements can contribute to stability, energetic efficiency, and impact absorption in both biological and robotic systems. They also add dynamical complexity which makes them more challenging to model and control. The impact of this added complexity to autonomous learning has not been thoroughly explored. This is especially relevant to tendon-driven limbs whose cables and tendons are inevitably elastic. Here, we explored the efficacy of autonomous learning and control on a simulated bio-plausible tendon-driven leg across different tendon stiffness values. We demonstrate that increasing stiffness of the simulated muscles can require more iterations for the inverse map to converge but can then perform more accurately, especially in discrete tasks. Moreover, the system is robust to subsequent changes in muscle stiffnesses and can adapt on-the-go within 5 attempts. Lastly, we test the system for the functional task of locomotion, and found similar effects of muscle stiffness to learning and performance. Given that a range of stiffness values led to improved learning and maximized performance, we conclude the robot bodies and autonomous controllers---at least for tendon-driven systems---can be co-developed to take advantage of elastic elements. Importantly, this opens also the door to development efforts that recapitulate the beneficial aspects of the co-evolution of brains and bodies in vertebrates.
Authors: Ali Marjaninejad, Jie Tan, Francisco J. Valero-Cuevas (University of Southern California)