Date of Award

Summer 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics

First Advisor

Dr. Mark Yim

Second Advisor

Dr. Daniel E. Koditschek

Third Advisor

Dr. Jonathan E. Clark


Recent developments in legged robotics have found that constant stiffness passive compliant legs are an effective mechanism for enabling dynamic locomotion. In spite of its success, one of the limitations of this approach is reduced adaptability. The final leg mechanism usually performs optimally for a small range of conditions such as the desired speed, payload, and terrain. For many situations in which a small locomotion system experiences a change in any of these conditions, it is desirable to have a tunable stiffness leg for effective gait control.

To date, the mechanical complexities of designing usefully robust tunable passive compliance into legs has precluded their implementation on practical running robots. In this thesis we present an overview of tunable stiffness legs, and introduce a simple leg model that captures the spatial compliance of our tunable leg. We present experimental evidence supporting the advantages of tunable stiffness legs, and implement what we believe is the first autonomous dynamic legged robot capable of automatic leg stiffness adjustment. Finally we discuss design objectives, material considerations, and manufacturing methods that lead to robust passive compliant legs.

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