Modeling and Implementation of the McKibben Actuator in Hydraulic Systems

Steven D. Thomalla, James D Van De Ven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


McKibben actuators, comprised of an elastomeric tube wrapped in inextensible fibers, were developed in the 1950s and have been used primarily in pneumatic applications. Mc-Kibben actuators provide superior force and power density at a lower cost compared to many conventional actuators due to their simple design. This paper explores driving McKibben actuators with high-pressure hydraulics and reflects on some challenges associated with modeling the actuators at hydraulic pressures. Twelve actuators were designed, fabricated, and tested experimentally over a range of contraction ratios. Four modeling approaches were evaluated against experimental data including a new model that eliminates some of the limitations of existing models by predicting output force as a function of initial actuator geometry only and capturing the nonlinear variation in elastomer wall thickness as the actuator is strained. The experimental results suggest that the existing McKibben force models presented in this paper are not as accurate as the new model for tracking total axial force generation. The absolute value of the error from experimental values of each of the four models ranged from 9.1% for the new model developed in this paper to 9.9%, 10.0%, and 10.5% for the three other existing approaches, but the new model has unique advantages in modeling hydraulic McKibben actuators that require thicker tube walls. This study lays the ground work for future research in modeling soft robots comprised of compliant actuators powered hydraulically at high pressures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8454729
Pages (from-to)1593-1602
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Robotics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2018

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  • Fiber-reinforced elastomeric enclosure (FREE) actuator
  • McKibben actuator
  • force modeling
  • hydraulic actuator
  • soft robotics


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