Two types of gear drives have been devised to improve the performances of robotic mechanisms. One type features a dual-input/single-output differential-drive configuration intended to eliminate stick/slip motions; the other type features a single-input/dual-angular-momentum-balanced-output configuration intended to eliminate reaction torques.

Stick/slip motion can degrade the performance of a robot because a robotic control system cannot instantaneously correct for a sudden change between static and dynamic friction. Reaction torque arises in a structure that supports a mechanism coupled to a conventional gear drive, and can adversely affect the structure, the mechanism, or other equipment connected to the structure or mechanism.

In a drive of the differential type, the two input shafts can be turned at different speeds and, if necessary, in opposite directions, to make the output shaft turn in the forward or reverse direction at a desired speed. This is done without stopping rotation of either input shaft, so that stick/slip does not occur. In a drive of the angular-momentum-balanced type, turning the single input shaft causes the two output shafts to rotate at equal speeds in opposite directions.

The figure schematically illustrates one of two drives of the differential type and one drive of the angular-momentum-balanced type that have been built and tested. Each of the differential drives is rated at input speeds up to 295 radians per second (2,800 r/min), output torque up to 450 N·m (4,000 lb-in.), and power up to 5.6 kW (7.5 hp). The maximum ratings of the angular-momentum-balanced drive are input speed of 302 radians per second (2,880 r/min), dual output torques of 434 N·m (3,840 lb-in.) each, and power of 10.9 kW (14.6 hp).

Each differential drive features either (as explained in the next two sentences) a dual roller-gear or a roller arrangement with a sun gear, four first-row planet gears, four second-row planet gears, and a ring gear. One of the differential drives contains a planetary roller-gear system with a reduction ratio (measured with one input driving the output while the other input shaft remains stationary) of 29.23:1. The other differential drive (the one shown in the figure) contains a planetary roller system with a reduction ratio of 24:1. The angular-momentum-balanced drive features a planetary roller system with five first- and second-row planet gears and a reduction ratio (the input to each of the two outputs) of 24:1. The three drives were subjected to a broad spectrum of tests to measure linearity, cogging, friction, and efficiency. All three drives operated as expected kinematically, exhibiting efficiencies as high as 95 percent.

Drives of the angular-momentum-balanced type could provide a reaction-free actuation when applied with proper combinations of torques and inertias coupled to output shafts. Drives of the differential type could provide improvements over present robotic transmissions for applications in which there are requirements for extremely smooth and accurate torque and position control, without inaccuracies that accompany stick/slip. Drives of the differential type could also offer viable alternatives to variable-ratio transmissions in applications in which output shafts are required to be driven both forward and in reverse, with an intervening stop. A differential transmission with two input drive motors could be augmented by a control system to optimize input speeds for any requested output speed; such a transmission could be useful in an electric car.

These Improved Gear Drives offer advantages for control of traction and rotary actuation in robots. In addition, drives of the differential type could be used in variable-speed transmissions in automobiles.

This work was done by William J. Anderson and William Shipitalo of Nastec, Inc., and Wyatt Newman of Case Western Reserve University for Lewis Research Center. Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to

NASA Lewis Research Center, Commercial Technology Office, Attn: Tech Brief Patent Status, Mail Stop 7-3, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135

Refer to LEW-16290.


Motion Control Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 1998 issue of Motion Control Tech Briefs Magazine.

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