Accurate and wide-range stiffness control is important for safe human-robot interaction. Accurate stiffness control can be better achieved using series elastic actuators (SEAs) than conventional rigid actuators. However, the stable range of virtual stiffness rendered by SEAs is limited by the stiffness of the actual spring, which cannot be too high in order to ensure good force control accuracy. Adding a virtual damper or derivative gain can increase the stable range of virtual stiffness, but the stable range would highly depend on the environmental stiffness. To relax the stiffness limitation in uncertain environments and explore more merits of SEAs, this letter proposes a hybrid impedance controller. This new controller linearly combines the spring force feedback and inertia force feedback. The stable range of virtual stiffness can be easily increased to ten times the actual spring stiffness with minimum effect on the force control accuracy. Unlike typical impedance controllers, the environmental stiffness can be used to raise the stable range of stiffness and hence the robustness of the controller can be ensured. Experiments will be provided to verify the hybrid impedance controller. We expect that the hybrid impedance controller can be used for SEAs in unstructured environments to provide a wide range of virtual stiffness.
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