Computing torques to compensate gravity in humanoid robot

2021-12-06 #robotics #humanoid #torques #gravity

As opposed to robotics arms, humanoid robots are mobile and therefore contact points with the environments should be accounted for when computing their dynamics.

Here, we derive a way to compute the required torque on an humanoid robot standing on either one or two legs to sustain the gravity.


The general equation of motion is:

\[M(q) \dot v + g(q) + h(q, v) = \tau \space \space (1)\]


  • \(q\) is the configuration of the robot joints,
  • \(v\) is the speeds of the robot joints (and \(\dot v\)) acceleration of robot joints,
  • \(M(q)\) is the mass matrix,
  • \(h(q, v)\) are Coriolis and centripetal effects,
  • \(g(q)\) is the generalized gravity,
  • \(\tau\) are the degrees of freedom torque.

If we want no acceleration \(\dot v = 0\), and we ignore other non linear effects (\(h\)):

\[\tau = g(q)\]

Thus, for any “static” robot like a robotic arm anchored on the ground, we can simply stop here. The generalized gravity is indeed directly the torques we need to compensate gravity.

Floating base

Now, what if we have a mobile robot, like an humanoid? The thing is that we need to represent the fact that the robot is moving in the world. This is typically achieved by adding a floating base.

The floating base is a set of 6 extra degrees of freedom added at the beginning of the kinematics chain representing the position of the robot in the world.

As an illustration, imagine an humanoid robot attached to an invisible robotic arm itself anchored to the ground. (This is just a mental visualization; the floating base is of course not constrained to the singluarities and the workspace of a robotic arm).

The equation \((1)\) now becomes:

\[M(q) \dot v + g(q) + h(q, v) = \begin{bmatrix} 0_6 \\ \tau \end{bmatrix}\]

Where \(0_6\) is the dimension-\(6\) vector of null torques in the floating base. Subject to gravity, the only way to balance this equation is to include some acceleration on the floating base: the robot is “falling” and there is no way to prevent that because our current model doesn’t includes contact forces.

Contact forces

Contact forces act on the robot through the transpose of the Jacobian of contact frame. For more information see Modern Robotics, chapter 5.2.

Those additional terms can be added to equation \((1)\), which is now:

\[M(q) \dot v + g(q) + h(q, v) = \begin{bmatrix} 0_6 \\ \tau \end{bmatrix} + \underbrace{ \sum_i J_i^T f_i }_{contact forces} \space \space (2)\]

Again, supposing we want no acceleration and neglecting other non linear effects than gravity, our equation becomes:

\[g(q) = \begin{bmatrix} 0_6 \\ \tau \end{bmatrix} + \sum_i J_i^T f_i \space \space (3)\]

One support leg

With one support leg, equation \((3)\) now is:

\[g(q) = \begin{bmatrix} 0_6 \\ \tau \end{bmatrix} + J_l^T f_l\]

Where \(J_l\) is the Jacobian of the left foot and \(f_l\) the force applied on the left foot.

We can split this equation in two parts:

\[\begin{cases} g_u(q) = (J_l^T)_u f_l \\ g_a(q) = \tau + (J_l^T)_a f_l \end{cases}\]

Here, the underscript \(u\) and \(a\) denotes respectively the unactuated and actuated parts of the gravity and Jacobian.

Since \((J_l^T)_u\) is the Jacobian of an universal floating base, it can always be inverted, and:

\[f_l = (J_l^T)_u^{-1} g_u(q)\]

Is the only solution of contact forces to balance the equation. We can then substitute them back in the actuated part of equation and get:

\[\tau = g_a(q) - (J_l^T)_a f_l\]

Which are the torques needed on the robot joints.

Two support legs

We now assume two support legs, and then have:

\[g(q) = \begin{bmatrix} 0_6 \\ \tau \end{bmatrix} + J_l^T f_l + J_r^T f_r\]

With \(J_l\) and \(J_r\) being respectively the Jacobian of the left and right foot, and \(f_l\) and \(f_r\) respectively the contact forces on left and right foot.

We can do the same split as previously, but separating also equations for left and right legs:

\[\begin{cases} g_u(q) = (J_l^T)_u f_l + (J_r^T)_u f_r \space \space (4) \\ g_l(q) = \tau_l + (J_l^T)_l f_l + \underbrace{(J_r^T)_l}_0 f_r \space \space (5) \\ g_r(q) = \tau_l + \underbrace{(J_l^T)_r}_0 f_l + (J_r^T)_r f_r \space \space (6) \end{cases}\]

Because of the kinematics structure of the robot, we know that \((J_r^T)_l\) and \((J_l^T)_r\) are null (because left and right legs are different branches in the kinematics tree).

Here, we can’t solve the contact forces using the first equation, because the system is under-constrained. Indeed, forces are 12 degrees of freedom while we only have 6 equations.

Minimizing contact forces

We could solve equation \((4)\) with:

\[\begin{bmatrix} f_l \\ f_r \end{bmatrix} = \begin{bmatrix} (J_l^T)_u & (J_r^T)_u \end{bmatrix}^{\dagger} g_u(q)\]

Where \(\dagger\) denotes the Moore-Penrose pseudo-inverse. (Note: With Numpy, you can use np.linalg.pinv, and with Eigen you can use computeOrthogonalDecomposition().solve().)

That would give us the solution that minimizes contact forces (more precisely \(|| f ||^2\)). But if you want to control an humanoid robot, it is more likely that what you want to minimize is the torques used in motors instead.

Minimizing torques

We can turn equation \((4)\) into a relation between \(f_l\) and \(f_r\):

\[f_l = \underbrace{ - (J_l^T)_u^{-1} (J_r^T)_u }_A f_r + \underbrace{ (J_l^T)_u^{-1} g_u(q) }_B\]

Substituing it in \((5)\), we get:

\[(J_l^T)_l f_l = g_l(q) - \tau_l \\ (J_l^T)_l (A f_r + B) = g_l(q) - \tau_l \\ f_r = \underbrace{ - ((J_l^T)_l A)^{-1} }_C \tau_l + \underbrace{ ((J_l^T)_l A)^{-1} ( g_l(q) - (J_l^T)_l B ) }_D \space \space (7)\]

And, from \((6)\):

\[f_r = \underbrace{ - (J_r^T)_r^{-1} }_E \tau_l + \underbrace{ (J_r^T)_r^{-1} g_r(q) }_F \space \space (8)\]

Thus, combining \((7)\) and \((8)\), we can get a relation between \(\tau_l\) and \(\tau_r\):

\[C \tau_l + D = E \tau_r + F\]

Which is another under-constrained system expressed in terms of torques. We can now find the solution minimizing torques:

\[\begin{bmatrix} \tau_l \\ \tau_r \end{bmatrix} = \begin{bmatrix} C & -E \end{bmatrix}^{\dagger} (F-D)\]

More generally

You can solve those problems more generally and systematically by formulating all this in a constrained optimization problem.

This is what is achieved in solvers like TSID (Task-Space Inverse Dynamics). In such setup, you minimize a score function subject to equation \((2)\), using some solver like Quadratic Programming.

There are many advantages of doing so; since you can also add some inequality constraints, limiting the torque and forces to feasible ranges.