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Development of a dexterous continuum manipulator for exploration and inspection in confined spaces

Shuntao Liu (Chengdu Aviation Company, Chengdu, China)
Zhixiong Yang (UM-SJTU Joint Institute, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China)
Zhijun Zhu (UM-SJTU Joint Institute, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China)
Liangliang Han (Institute of Aerospace System Engineering, Shanghai, China)
Xiangyang Zhu (School of Mechanical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China)
Kai Xu (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China)

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 16 May 2016




Slim and dexterous manipulators with long reaches can perform various exploration and inspection tasks in confined spaces. This paper aims to present the development of such a dexterous continuum manipulator for potential applications in the aviation industry.


Benefiting from a newly conceived dual continuum mechanism and the improved actuation scheme, this paper proposes a design of a slim and dexterous continuum manipulator. Kinematics modeling, simulation-based dimension synthesis, structural constructions and system descriptions are elaborated.


Experimental validations show that the constructed prototype possesses the desired dexterity to navigate through confined spaces with its kinematics calibrated and actuation compensation implemented. The continuum manipulator with different deployed tools (e.g. graspers and welding guns) would be able to perform inspections and other tasks at remote locations in constrained environments.

Research limitations/implications

The current construction of the continuum manipulator possesses quite some friction inside its structure. The bending discrepancy caused by friction could accumulate to an obvious level. It is desired to further reduce the friction, even though the actuation compensation had been implemented.

Practical implications

The constructed continuum manipulator could perform inspection and other tasks in confined spaces, acting as an active multi-functional endoscopic platform. Such a device could greatly facilitate routine tasks in the aviation industry, such as guided assembling, inspection and maintenance.


The originality and values of this paper mainly lay on the design, modeling, construction and experimental validations of the slim and dexterous continuum manipulator for the desired mobility and functionality in confined spaces.



This work was supported in part by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 51375295 and Grant No. 51435010), in part by the State Key Laboratory of Mechanical Systems and Vibration (Grant No. MSVZD201406 and Grant No. MSVZD201504), and in part by the Shanghai Rising-Star Program (Grant No. 14QA1402100).


Liu, S., Yang, Z., Zhu, Z., Han, L., Zhu, X. and Xu, K. (2016), "Development of a dexterous continuum manipulator for exploration and inspection in confined spaces", Industrial Robot, Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 284-295.



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