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Humans demonstrate an impressive capability to manipulate fragile objects without damaging them, graciously controlling the force and position of hands or tools. Traditionally, robotics has favored position control over force control to produce fast, accurate and repeatable motion. For extending the applicability of robotic manipulators outside the strictly controlled environments of industrial work cells, position control is inadequate. Tasks that involve contact with objects whose positions are not known with perfect certainty require a controller that regulates the relationship between positional deviations and forces on the robot. This problem is formalized in the impedance control framework, which focuses the robot control problem on the interaction between the robot and its environment. By adjusting the impedance, the behavior of the robot can be adapted to the need of the task. However, it is often difficult to specify formally how the impedance should vary for best performance. Furthermore, fast it can be shown that careless variation of the impedance can lead to unstable regulation or tracking even in free motion. In the first part of the thesis, the problem of how to define a varying impedance for a task is addressed. A haptic human-robot interface that allows a human supervisor to teach impedance variations by physically interacting with the robot during task execution is introduced. It is shown that the interface can be used to enhance the performance in several manipulation tasks. Then, the problem of stable control with varying impedance is addressed. Along with a theoretical discussion on this topic, a sufficient condition for stable varying stiffness and damping is provided. In the second part of the thesis, we explore more complex manipulation scenarios via online generation of the robot trajectory. This is done along two axes 1) learning how to react to contact forces in insertion tasks which are crucial for assembly operations and 2) autonomous Dynamical Systems (DS) for motion representation with the capability to encode a family of trajectories rather than a fixed, time-dependent reference. A novel framework for task representation using DS is introduced, termed Locally Modulated Dynamical Systems (LMDS). LMDS differs from existing DS estimation algorithms in that it supports non-parametric and incremental learning while guaranteeing that the resulting DS is globally stable at an attractor point. To combine the advantages of DS motion generation with impedance control, a novel controller for tasks described by first order DS is proposed. The controller is passive, and has the properties of an impedance controller with the added flexibility of a DS motion representation instead of a time-indexed trajectory.

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Last update: 25/08/06