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Delta robot kinematics

When one talks about industrial robots, most of people imagine robotic arms, or articulated robots, which are doing painting, welding, moving something, etc. But there is another type of robots: so-called parrallel delta robot, which was invented in the early 80's in Switzerland by professor Reymond Clavel. Below the original technical drawing from U.S. Patent 4,976,582 is shown, and two real industrial delta robots, one from ABB, and one from Fanuc.

The delta robot consists of two platforms: the upper one (1) with three motors (3) mounted on it, and smaller one (8) with an end effector (9). The platforms are connected through three arms with parallelograms, the parallelograms restrain the orientation of the lower platform to be parallel to the working surface (table, conveyor belt and so on). The motors (3) set the position of the arms (4) and, thereby, the XYZ-position of the end effector, while the fourth motor (11) is used for rotation of the end effector. You can find more detailed description of delta robot design in the corresponding Wikipedia article.

The core advantage of delta robots is speed. When typical robot arm has to move not only payload, but also all servos in each joint, the only moving part of delta robot is its frame, which is usually made of lightweight composite materials. To get an evidence of delta robots outstanding abilities, take a look at this and this video. Due to its speed, delta robots are widely used in pick-n-place operations of relatively light objects (up to 1 kg).

Problem definition

If we want to build our own delta robot, we need to solve two problems. First, if we know the desired position of the end effector (for example, we want to catch pancake in the point with coordinates X,Y,Z), we need to determine the corresponding angles of each of three arms (joint angles) to set motors (and, thereby, the end effector) in proper position for picking. The process of such determining is known asinverse kinematics.

And, in the second place, if we know joint angles (for example, we've read the values of motor encoders), we need to determine the position of the end effector (e.g. to make some corrections of its current position). This isforward kinematicsproblem.

To be more formal, let's look at the kinematic scheme of delta robot. The platforms are two equilateral triangles: the fixed one with motors is green, and the moving one with the end effector is pink. Joint angles aretheta1,theta2andtheta3, and pointE0is the end effector position with coordinates (x0,y0,z0). To solve inverse kinematics problem we have to create function with E0 coordinates (x0,y0,z0) as parameters which returns (theta1,theta2,theta3). Forward kinematics functions gets (theta1,theta2,theta3) and returns (x0,y0,z0).

In the following two paragraphs will come the theoretical part of delta robots kinematics. Those who don't like mathematics and trigonometry may jump right to the practical part: sample programs written in C language. So, let's start from

Inverse Kinematics

First, let's determine some key parameters of our robot's geometry. Let's designate the side of the fixed triangle asf, the side of the end effector triangle ase, the length of the upper joint asrf, and the length of the parallelogram joint asre. These are physical parameters which are determined by design of your robot. The reference frame will be choosen with the origin at the center of symmetry of the fixed triangle, as shown below, so z-coordinate of the end effector will always be negative.

Because of robot's design jointF1J1(see fig. below) can only rotate in YZ plane, forming circle with center in pointF1and radiusrf. As opposed toF1,J1andE1are so-called universal joints, which means thatE1J1can rotate freely relatively toE1, forming sphere with center in pointE1and radiusre.

Intersection of this sphere and YZ plane is a circle with center in pointE'1and radiusE'1J1, whereE'1is the projection of the pointE1on YZ plane. The point J1 can be found now as intersection of to circles of known radius with centers inE'1andF1(we should choose only one intersection point with smaller Y-coordinate). And if we knowJ1, we can calculatetheta1angle.

Below you can find corresponding equations and the YZ plane view:

Such algebraic simplicity follows from good choice of reference frame: jointF1J1moving in YZ plane only, so we cat completely omit X coordinate. To take this advantage for the remaining anglestheta2andtheta3, we should use the symmetry of delta robot. First, let's rotate coordinate system in XY plane around Z-axis through angle of 120 degrees counterclockwise, as it is shown below.

We've got a new reference frame X'Y'Z', and it this frame we can find angletheta2using the same algorithm that we used to findtheta1. The only change is that we need to determine new coordinatesx'0andy'0for the pointE0, which can be easily done using corresponding rotation matrix. To find angletheta3we have to rotate reference frame clockwise. This idea is used in the coded example below: I have one function which calculates angle theta for YZ plane only, and call this function three times for each angle and each reference frame.

Forward kinematics

Now the three joint anglestheta1,theta2andtheta3are given, and we need to find the coordinates (x0,y0,z0) of end effector pointE0.

As we know angles theta, we can easily find coordinates of pointsJ1,J2andJ3(see fig. below). JointsJ1E1,J2E2andJ3E3can freely rotate around pointsJ1,J2andJ3respectively, forming three spheres with radiusre.

Now let's do the following: move the centers of the spheres from pointsJ1,J2andJ3to the pointsJ'1,J'2andJ'3using transition vectorsE1E0,E2E0andE3E0respectively. After this transition all three spheres will intersect in one point:E0, as it is shown in fig. below:

So, to find coordinates (

x0,y0,z0) of pointE0, we need to solve set of three equations like (x-xj)^2+(y-yj)^2+(z-zj)^2 = re^2, where coordinates of sphere centers (xj,yj,zj) and radiusreare known.

First, let's find coordinates of pointsJ'1,J'2,J'3:

In the following equations I'll designate coordinates of points J1, J2, J3 as (x1, y1, z1), (x2, y2, z2) and (x3, y3, z3). Please note that x0=0. Here are equations of three spheres:

Finally, we need to solve this quadric equation and find

z0(we should choose the smallest negative equation root), and then calculatex0andy0from eq. (7) and (8).

Sample programs

The following code is written in C, all variable names correspond to designations I've used above. Anglestheta1,theta2andtheta3are in degrees. You can freely use this code in your applications.

AcknowledgementsCode:// robot geometry // (look at pics above for explanation) const float e = 115.0; // end effector const float f = 457.3; // base const float re = 232.0; const float rf = 112.0; // trigonometric constants const float sqrt3 = sqrt(3.0); const float pi = 3.141592653; // PI const float sin120 = sqrt3/2.0; const float cos120 = -0.5; const float tan60 = sqrt3; const float sin30 = 0.5; const float tan30 = 1/sqrt3; // forward kinematics: (theta1, theta2, theta3) -> (x0, y0, z0) // returned status: 0=OK, -1=non-existing position int delta_calcForward(float theta1, float theta2, float theta3, float &x0, float &y0, float &z0) { float t = (f-e)*tan30/2; float dtr = pi/(float)180.0; theta1 *= dtr; theta2 *= dtr; theta3 *= dtr; float y1 = -(t + rf*cos(theta1)); float z1 = -rf*sin(theta1); float y2 = (t + rf*cos(theta2))*sin30; float x2 = y2*tan60; float z2 = -rf*sin(theta2); float y3 = (t + rf*cos(theta3))*sin30; float x3 = -y3*tan60; float z3 = -rf*sin(theta3); float dnm = (y2-y1)*x3-(y3-y1)*x2; float w1 = y1*y1 + z1*z1; float w2 = x2*x2 + y2*y2 + z2*z2; float w3 = x3*x3 + y3*y3 + z3*z3; // x = (a1*z + b1)/dnm float a1 = (z2-z1)*(y3-y1)-(z3-z1)*(y2-y1); float b1 = -((w2-w1)*(y3-y1)-(w3-w1)*(y2-y1))/2.0; // y = (a2*z + b2)/dnm; float a2 = -(z2-z1)*x3+(z3-z1)*x2; float b2 = ((w2-w1)*x3 - (w3-w1)*x2)/2.0; // a*z^2 + b*z + c = 0 float a = a1*a1 + a2*a2 + dnm*dnm; float b = 2*(a1*b1 + a2*(b2-y1*dnm) - z1*dnm*dnm); float c = (b2-y1*dnm)*(b2-y1*dnm) + b1*b1 + dnm*dnm*(z1*z1 - re*re); // discriminant float d = b*b - (float)4.0*a*c; if (d < 0) return -1; // non-existing point z0 = -(float)0.5*(b+sqrt(d))/a; x0 = (a1*z0 + b1)/dnm; y0 = (a2*z0 + b2)/dnm; return 0; } // inverse kinematics // helper functions, calculates angle theta1 (for YZ-pane) int delta_calcAngleYZ(float x0, float y0, float z0, float &theta) { float y1 = -0.5 * 0.57735 * f; // f/2 * tg 30 y0 -= 0.5 * 0.57735 * e; // shift center to edge // z = a + b*y float a = (x0*x0 + y0*y0 + z0*z0 +rf*rf - re*re - y1*y1)/(2*z0); float b = (y1-y0)/z0; // discriminant float d = -(a+b*y1)*(a+b*y1)+rf*(b*b*rf+rf); if (d < 0) return -1; // non-existing point float yj = (y1 - a*b - sqrt(d))/(b*b + 1); // choosing outer point float zj = a + b*yj; theta = 180.0*atan(-zj/(y1 - yj))/pi + ((yj>y1)?180.0:0.0); return 0; } // inverse kinematics: (x0, y0, z0) -> (theta1, theta2, theta3) // returned status: 0=OK, -1=non-existing position int delta_calcInverse(float x0, float y0, float z0, float &theta1, float &theta2, float &theta3) { theta1 = theta2 = theta3 = 0; int status = delta_calcAngleYZ(x0, y0, z0, theta1); if (status == 0) status = delta_calcAngleYZ(x0*cos120 + y0*sin120, y0*cos120-x0*sin120, z0, theta2); // rotate coords to +120 deg if (status == 0) status = delta_calcAngleYZ(x0*cos120 - y0*sin120, y0*cos120+x0*sin120, z0, theta3); // rotate coords to -120 deg return status; }

All core ideas about delta robot kinematics are taken from the article of Prof. Paul Zsombor-Murray Descriptive Geometric Kinematic Analysis of Clavel's "Delta" Robot. It's a great publication, but it requires a very strong mathematical background for understanding.

Sample build

I've used the programs listed above in my model of delta robot made of standard Lego parts. It uses Lego Mindstorms NXT as "brain", and a program written in RobotC. Below the robot is shown in action, so you can be sure that this programs realy work

[youtube]V_FoJWm2lOI[/youtube]

Now you know enough about delta robot kinematics to build your own. Enjoy!