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16th IFAC Symposium on System Identification

The International Federation of Automatic Control

Brussels, Belgium. July 11-13, 2012

A Frequency-Domain Approach for

Flexible-Joint Robot Modeling and
Maria Makarov , Mathieu Grossard
Pedro Rodrguez-Ayerbe Didier Dumur

CEA, LIST, Interactive Robotics Laboratory, Fontenay aux Roses,

F-92265, France (e-mail:

SUPELEC Systems Sciences (E3S), Control Department,

Gif sur Yvette Cedex F-91192, France

Abstract: This paper proposes a control-oriented modeling and identification framework for
flexible-joint robot arms using motor-side measurements only. From the perspective of modelbased control strategies including an inner feedback linearization loop, the proposed method
allows an explicit treatment of the vibrational behavior induced by the flexibilities. A theoretical
model of the partially decoupled system is derived and a frequency-domain identification
procedure allowing an estimation of the flexible parameters is detailed. The obtained description
of the system is experimentally validated on the CEA lightweight robot arm ASSIST.
Keywords: robotic manipulators, flexible arms, feedback linearization, control-oriented models.
Over the last two decades modeling and control of flexible
robots have attracted a special attention of the robotic
community (Dwivedy and Eberhard, 2006; De Luca and
Book, 2008). These studies are all the more motivated
today by emerging applications in service, medical, space
or industrial fields. Innovative mechanical designs provide
the desired features for these applications, such as safety
in case of shared human-robot workspace, leading to
an expansive development of lightweight robots (KUKA;
DLR; ABB; Barrett Technology; Sugano Laboratory).
These mechanisms are often intrinsically flexible due to
their slender structure and/or transmissions and can be
subject to resonant modes. In this context, advanced
control techniques taking into account the flexibilities are
required to reach a high control bandwidth for precise
high-speed operation.
The present study focuses on flexible-joint robots, where
the transmissions between the motors and the rigid links
are assumed to concentrate the essential part of the elasticities (possibly due to harmonic drives, transmission belts
or cable driven mechanisms) and are modeled as springs.
When compared with the robot dynamics under standard
rigid body assumptions, these flexibilities introduce supplementary degrees of freedom between the motor and the
joint angles. To cope with this issue, a large number of
solutions propose additional sensors to measure the elastic
deformations between the motors and the joints. These
additional measurements allow powerful and theoretically
well founded control strategies such as flexible feedback
linearization (De Luca and Book, 2008) or full state feedback (Petit and Albu-Schaffer, 2011; Albu-Schaffer and
Hirzinger, 2000). However, these relatively complex solutions can not always be implemented on robots in a
978-3-902823-06-9/12/$20.00 2012 IFAC

standard industrial configuration, i.e. equipped only with

motor position sensors and controlled in real-time at a high
sampling rate. Possible control strategies in this case are
motor feedback which may be completed with feedforward
terms based on the desired joint reference trajectory and
the flexible model (De Luca, 2000).
Similarly to the above cited control strategies, the modeling and identification approaches for flexible-joint robots
heavily depend on the available measurements and the
intended use of the model. A control-oriented description
must provide an adequate level of details while remaining
exploitable for control design. The simplest model is the
single joint model (the inertial couplings between the joints
being neglected), suitable for single-input single-output
(SISO) control strategies. Such a physically parametrized
linear model has been identified on an industrial robot

by Ostring
et al. (2003). When a higher level of precision is required, the coupled vibration effects have to be
taken into account and a multivariable model has to be
considered. In most approaches the rigid body dynamics
are assumed to be known, from CAD estimates or experimental identification, reducing the identification problem
to the stiffness parameters estimation. Following this approach, Albu-Schaffer and Hirzinger (2001) use additional
joint torque sensors to identify the elasticity and damping
separately for each joint on testbed before the assembly of
the robot. Oaki and Adachi (2009) employ additional link
accelerometers in a gray-box modeling approach. Pham
et al. (2001) propose an identification procedure based
on bandpass filtering which uses only motor-side measurements, identifying one joint at a time. Hovland et al. (2000)
describe a frequency-based identification method under
linearizing assumptions for an industrial robot with two
coupled flexible joints. Nonlinear gray-box identification
and multivariable nonparametric methods for frequency



16th IFAC Symposium on System Identification

Brussels, Belgium. July 11-13, 2012


This section recalls the classical dynamical models for a
n-link rigid manipulator and its flexible-joint counterpart.
2.1 Rigid dynamic model

Fig. 1. Rigid feedback linearization strategy for a robot

response function (FRF) estimation have been developed
by Wernholt (2007) for industrial robots.
The present work addresses the identification problem
from a control perspective. A modeling strategy is proposed for flexible-joint robots using only motor-side measurements. In particular, the presented method aims at
providing a physically parametrized model suitable both
for further control design and an effective identification. To
this end, a theoretical description of a partially decoupled
flexible system containing an inner feedback-linearization
loop based on a rigid model (Fig. 1) is proposed. The model
structure being thus fixed, its multivariable frequencydomain identification offers valuable insights on the residual flexible dynamics to be taken into account in the design
of the outer-loop controller.
Section 2 recalls the standard dynamic modeling of rigid
and flexible-joint robots. In Section 3, the model of the
residual system resulting from the inner model-based loop
is derived. Section 4 details the identification methodology used for frequency-domain validation of this model
and its parameter estimation. In Section 5 the introduced
modeling strategy is applied to a lightweight robot arm
developed at the CEA LIST in the context of the humanrobot interaction and safe manipulation. The proposed
theoretical model is compared with the experimental multivariable FRF allowing an estimation of the unknown
flexible parameters.
Following notations are used throughout this paper. Table 1 introduces the physical variables and parameters. In
denotes the identity matrix of dimension n.

Modeling The inverse dynamic model of a n-link rigid

manipulator can be obtained from the Lagrange formalism
and is given by:
M (q)
q + H(q, q)
+ f =
with Rn the motor torque vector after the reduction
stage, q, q and q Rn the joint positions, velocities
and accelerations vectors, M (q) Rnn the robot inertia
matrix, H(q, q)
Rn the vector of Coriolis, centrifugal and
gravitational torques, and f Rn the friction torque.
A rigid transmission is assumed between the motor angles
after the reduction stage and the joint angles q, so that
m and q are connected by a purely algebraic relation:
q = = R1 m
Feedback linearization The nonlinear and coupled dynamic model (1) can be linearized and decoupled by feedback (Khalil and Dombre, 2004) according to the scheme
summarized in Fig. 1. The linearizing control torque is:
(q)u + H(q,


where the estimates M (q) and H(q, q)

are updated at
each sampling time for the current position q and velocity
The new control vector is denoted u. In case of a
perfectly known model, applying the control torque (3)
to the system (1) of relative degree 2 leads to:

(q) = M (q)
q = u
= H(q, q)

The linearized system (4) therefore consists of n independent double integrators, and linear SISO controllers can
thus be applied to control each of them in an outer loop.
2.2 Flexible-joint dynamic model
In case of flexible-joint robots, relation (2) no longer holds.
The elastic behavior in the transmission between motors
and links is represented by a torsional spring (Fig. 2).

Table 1. Notations

Signification or expression

Units (SI)


motor angular position

motor torque
reduction matrix
motor angular position after reduction
= R1 m
joint angular position
motor torque after reduction = R m
rigid-body inertia matrix
diagonal matrix of rotor inertias
matrix of rotor inertias after reduction
J = R 2 Jm
rigid-body inertia matrix in rigid model
M = ML + J
Coriolis, centrifugal and gravity terms
diagonal joint stiffness matrix
joint and motor viscous friction




kg m2
kg m2
kg m2
kg m2
Nm rad1
Nm s rad1

Fig. 2. Schematic representation of a flexible joint.

The state of the system is therefore composed of both the
motors and links coordinates : x = ( q q)
T R4n . Under
the assumption that the angular velocity of the rotors is
due only to their own spinning (De Luca and Book, 2008),
the flexible-joint manipulator is modeled by the reduced
dynamic model as follows :
ML (q)
q + H(q, q)
+ f a + K(q ) = 0
J + f m + K( q) =
with K the joint stiffness matrix, ML the rigid body inertia
matrix, J the diagonal rotors inertia matrix and f a and
f m respectively the joint and motor friction torques.


16th IFAC Symposium on System Identification

Brussels, Belgium. July 11-13, 2012


In this section the flexible model of a partially linearized
robot arm using only motor-side measurements is first
derived, then a physically parametrized transfer matrix
form of this system is proposed and illustrated on a 2
degrees-of-freedom (dof) system.
Fig. 3. Local representation of the system ().

3.1 Flexible model of a partially linearized robot arm

In the reduced measurements case when only the motorside signals are available, a partial feedback linearization
based on the rigid model (1) may be attempted. This
strategy is described by the system () in Figure 1 with
input u and output , and composed of the robot described
by (5) and (6) with the inner loop (3). Since the latter
does not take into account the flexibilities, () does not
consist on n independent double integrators as expected
in the ideal linearization case. It is instead still nonlinear,
coupled and affected by resonant flexible modes. In order
to evaluate these effects, equations (5) and (6) under the
feedback law (3) are expressed in the motor variables. The
friction terms f a and f m are assumed to represent the
viscous friction contribution with coefficients Fv and Fvm :
f a = Fv q,
f m = Fvm
From (6) we obtain :
q = K 1 J + K 1 Fvm + K 1
Differentiating (8) twice and replacing from (3), (5) can
be reformulated as :
(4) + A3 (3) + A2 + A1
= B2 u
+ B1 u + B0 u + dH
with the matrix coefficients Ai and Bj Rnn depending
on q and q:

A3 = J 1 Fvm + LJ
A2 = J 1 K(I + ML1 J) + Fv Fvm
A1 = J 1 KML1 (Fv + Fvm )

B2 = J 1 M
+ 2J 1 M

B1 = LM

+ LM
+ J 1 M

B0 = J 1 KML1 M
L = J 1 KML1 Fv K 1

Hq + Fv K 1 H
+ ML K 1 H

dH = H
Note that the estimates of M (q) and H(q, q)
= Hq are
approximated by their evaluation in the motor variable
and H
. This approximation is justified
as denoted by M
in a local study by the relatively slow variations of arm inertia with the robot configuration. The difference between
is seen as a disturbance. The validity of the
Hq and H
simplifying assumptions successively applied throughout
this section is confirmed by simulations of the flexible
robot dynamics.
3.2 Transfer matrix form
Following a frequency-oriented approach, the obtained
system is then rewritten under a more easily interpretable
transfer matrix form. In a first-order approximation, the

in the expression of B0 are neglected.

derivatives of M
This assumption is justified around a given configuration
q = q0 due to small variations of the robot inertia matrix.
With this assumption, (9) can be locally written as an LTI
system in the Laplace domain:
A(s)(s) = B(s)U (s) + dH
(s) = A(s) B(s)U (s) + A(s) dH

(s) = A(s) B(s)U (s) + dH

A(s) = s4 In + s3 A3 + s2 A2 + sA1
B(s) = s2 B2 + sB1 + B0

The term dH is seen as a filtered output perturbation dH
and is not intended to be identified but instead treated
with the help of robust control techniques in a future outerloop control strategy.
Finally, the local model (13) can be expressed around q0
in the transfer matrix form :
(s) = G(s)U (s) + dH
with G(s) Cnn . The bloc diagram of this system is
shown in Fig. 3.
3.3 Discussion on a 2-dof example
The term Gij (s) of the matrix G in (16) represents the
influence of input uj on output i . For a 2-dof arm case
(n = 2), Gij (s) has the following form :
a0 (s + a1 )(s2 + a2 s + a3 )(s2 + a4 s + a5 )
Gij (s) =
s(s + b1 )(s + b2 )(s2 + b3 s + b4 )(s2 + b5 s + b6 )
with ai and bj real scalar coefficients.
Without viscous motor and joint friction, the terms L, A3 ,
A1 and B1 vanish so that
A0 (s) = s4 In + s2 A02
2 0
B (s) = s B2 + B0
and (17) reduces to:
a0 (s2 + a03 )(s2 + a05 )
G0ij (s) = 02 2
s (s + b04 )(s2 + b06 )
with a0i and b0j real scalar coefficients.
As the decoupled double integrator model expected in the
case of an ideal feedback linearization (4) is often used
for the design of the outer-loop controller in Fig. 1, it is
important to observe the differences that might appear in
a case of a robot affected by joint flexibilities, in order to
take them explicitly into account.
Figure 4 shows the typical profile of the FRF of the 2dof system G in a given configuration q0 , assuming a
perfectly known rigid part of the model, with and without


16th IFAC Symposium on System Identification

Brussels, Belgium. July 11-13, 2012

friction, compared with the ideal double integrator. Note

that the double integrator behavior initially expected on
the diagonal terms is now affected by anti-resonances
and resonances due to a finite stiffness matrix K. The
system including viscous friction behaves only as a simple
integrator at low frequencies. Besides, the system is still
coupled due to non-null extradiagonal terms.

Fig. 4. Frequency response of the flexible model with and

without friction.

4.2 Multivariable frequency response estimation

Consider a linear system G with nu inputs u and ny outputs y. Assuming periodic data affected by measurement
noise V , with U (k ) and Y (k ) the DFTs of the input
and output at frequency k , the following input-output
relation holds:
Y (k ) = G(k )U (k ) + V (k ).
ny nu
To estimate G(k ) C
, data from ne nu different
experiments is collected:
Y(k ) = G(k )U(k ) + V(k )
nu ne
ny ne
with U (k ) C
and Y (k ) C
In case of a nonlinear system, a linear approximation of
the input-output relation is sought. Different estimators
from (24).
can be used to compute the FRF estimate G
In (Wernholt, 2007) the harmonic mean estimator has
been reported as providing better estimates in case of low
SNR, for instance at low frequencies or at resonances. The
harmonic mean estimator is defined as :
Ne h
i1 1
k) =
Ne m=1
[m] = Y[m] (k ) U[m] (k )
[m]1 = U[m] (k ) Y[m] (k )

This section details the identification procedure employed
to validate the previously derived model. The method for
experimental multivariable FRF estimation is described,
including the choice of exciting input signals and the
estimator used (see Wernholt (2007) for more details).


assuming ny = nu and ne = Ne nu experiments in order

to partition the system (24) into Ne integer number of
blocs of size nu nu to average over.

4.1 Input signals choice

Exciting input signals for FRF measurements must be
chosen carefully. Periodic signals are preferred as they
avoid leakage issues in the Discrete Fourier Transform
(DFT) computations and improve the signal-to-noise ratio
(SNR) by averaging over periods. Sums of sinusoids also
called multisine signals appear as an attractive solution to
achieve a certain spectrum at precisely specified frequencies in only one experiment, thus reducing the measurement time. Random phase multisines are defined as :

In this section the previously described modeling and

identification procedure is applied to the CEA robot arm
ASSIST. The obtained experimental results are compared
with the theoretically derived model in Section 3.
5.1 System description


. Nf is the number
with k N2l
p s
of excited frequencies k , Ak the signal amplitudes, k
the random phases uniformly distributed on [0, 2], Ts the
sampling time, and Np (even) the length of the signal.
Odd random phase multisines can be used to excite only
the odd harmonics

(2l + 1), l = 1..
Np Ts

For the flexible model validation purposes, the 7-dof ASSIST robot arm is considered without loss of generality as
a two-joint manipulator, the other five rotational dof being
fixed. This system therefore corresponds to the theoretical
model proposed in Section 3.3. The two joints of interest
are the shoulder j1 and the elbow j2 (Fig. 5) so that
the robot motion is restricted to the vertical plane. The
joint actuators are based on a screw-and-cable mechanism
to ensure a high mechanical backdrivability, essential for
safe human-robot interaction (Jarrasse et al., 2008). DC
motors driven by PWM servo amplifiers in torque mode
are employed. The motor shafts are equipped with incremental position encoders. The robot arm is controlled by
a real-time dedicated controller running VxWorks, with a
sampling time Ts = 3ms.

The choice of such signals has been suggested in (Schoukens

et al., 2001) to obtain the best linear approximation of
a dominantly linear system under nonlinear distortions.
Random phase multisines allow averaging the FRF over
several realizations to reduce the nonlinear effects, and
thus combine the benefits of random and periodic signals.

Detailed results on the rigid system modeling and control

can be found in (Makarov et al., 2011). The control scheme
based on the rigid feedback linearization (Fig. 1) is applied.
This strategy provided satisfactory results in the trajectory tracking experiments at low speed. However, cablebased transmissions introduce joint flexibilities which can

u(t) =


Ak cos(k t + k )




16th IFAC Symposium on System Identification

Brussels, Belgium. July 11-13, 2012

Fig. 5. CAD view of the ASSIST arm with 2 actuated

joints j1 , j2 considered in this paper, and 5 other dof.

Fig. 6. Arm configurations used for the experimental

frequency response estimation.
not be neglected for efficient high-speed operation and
disturbance rejection, and require a flexible identification.

Fig. 7. Experimental frequency responses of the transfer

G11 from u1 to 1 .

Fig. 8. Experimental frequency responses of the transfer

G22 from u2 to 2 .

5.2 Experimental identification and model validation

Experimental protocol The local model (16) depending
on the robot configuration q0 , the identification experiments have been performed in 7 different configurations
shown in Fig. 6. They correspond to three angular positions for each of the 2 joints, qimin = /2 rad, qimed = 0
rad and qimax = /2 rad. Odd random phase multisines
are used as input signals for the closed-loop identification,
with the odd frequencies selected over the range 0.5-12Hz
from the grid (22). Each joint is excited separately, with
5 realizations of the input signal, resulting in ne = 5 2
experiments. The used signal length is Np = 212 points.
The multivariable frequency response is estimated using
the harmonic mean estimator (25).
Experimental results Figures 7 to 10 show the obtained
frequency responses of the 2-dof ASSIST arm in the tested
configurations. They represent the transfers G11 , G22 ,
G21 and G12 according to the notation introduced in
Section 3.3. All configurations display an antiresonance
followed by a resonance varying between 4.5Hz and 8.5Hz.
The resonances are grouped around 8Hz with deviation of
1Hz for all configurations except for P1a. In bended configurations (P2a, P2b, P3a, P3b) additional low-frequency
resonances appear on G22 . The observed resonant behavior
confirms the necessity of an active vibration damping
control strategy to achieve high control bandwidth.

Fig. 9. Experimental frequency responses of the transfer

G21 from u1 to 2 .
Comparison with the theoretical model In Fig. 11 the
flexible model (16) is superimposed with the experimental
frequency response in two configurations (P1b and P2b).
The rigid body parameters are assumed known from
previous identification experiments (see Makarov et al.
(2011)). The unknown parameters K, Fv and Fvm in the
flexible model (16) are adjusted in the frequency domain
to match the resonance and the law frequency behavior. In
the present case, the identified joint stiffness parameters
are K1 = 1150 Nm/rad for j1 and K2 = 220 Nm/rad for j2 .
The difference in the resonance frequency between these
two experiments is entirely explained by the variation of
the rigid body inertia matrix with the configuration q0 .


16th IFAC Symposium on System Identification

Brussels, Belgium. July 11-13, 2012

Fig. 10. Experimental frequency responses of the transfer

G12 from u2 to 1 .

Fig. 11. Experimental and theoretical MIMO frequency response of the approximately decoupled flexible system
in configurations P1b and P2b.
In this paper, a new modeling approach was proposed
for flexible-joint robots based on motor-side measurements
only and an inner feedback linearization loop. A physically
parametrized flexible model was identified and validated
using experimental FRF measurements, providing valuable insights for further control design of the outer-loop
The observed resonances at relatively low frequencies motivate active damping solutions to achieve a high control
bandwidth. Robust control strategies will be considered to
deal with the flexible modes variation in loaded conditions.
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