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Electrical and electronic engineering
Presently, DC motors are the actuator of choice within intelligent upper limb prostheses. However, the weight and dimensions associated with suitable DC motors are not always compatible with the geometric restrictions of a prosthetic hand; reducing available degrees of freedom and ultimately rendering the prosthesis uncomfortable for the end-user. As a result, the search is on-going to find a more appropriate actuation solution that is lightweight, noiseless, strong and cheap. Shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators offer the potential to meet these requirements. To date, no viable upper limb prosthesis using SMA actuators has been developed. The primary reasons lie in low force generation as a result of unsuitable actuator designs, and significant difficulties in control owing to the highly nonlinear response of SMAs when subjected to joule heating. This work presents a novel and comprehensive methodology to facilitate evaluation of SMA bundle actuators for prosthetic finger design. SMA bundle actuators feature multiple SMA wires in parallel. This allows for increased force generation without compromising on dynamic performance. The SMA bundle actuator is tasked with reproducing the typical forces and contractions associated with the human finger in a prosthetic finger design, whilst maintaining a high degree of energy efficiency. A novel approach to SMA control is employed, whereby an adaptive controller is developed and tuned using the underlying thermo-mechanical principles of operation of SMA wires. A mathematical simulation of the kinematics and dynamics of motion provides a platform for designing, optimizing and evaluating suitable SMA bundle actuators offline. This significantly reduces the time and cost involved in implementing an appropriate actuation solution. Experimental results show iii that the performance of SMA bundle actuators is favourable for prosthesis applications. Phalangeal tip forces are shown to improve significantly through bundling of SMA wire actuators, while dynamic performance is maintained owing to the design and implementation of the selected control strategy. The work is intended to serve as a roadmap for fellow researchers seeking to design, implement and control SMA bundle actuators in a prosthesis design. Furthermore, the methodology can also be adopted to serve as a guide in the evaluation of other non-conventional actuation technologies in alternative applications.
O'Toole, K. (2011) A Methodology Towards Comprehensive Evaluation of Shape Memory Alloy Actuators for Prosthetic Finger Design. Doctoral Thesis. Technological University Dublin. doi:10.21427/D71C8B