Advantages and problems related to the use of compliant hinges in articulated robotic structures are briefly discussed. A novel kind of elastic joint made with close-wound helical springs is then described. It is capable of large angular displacement so that it can be conveniently applied in manipulation devices like the humanoid robot hand developed at the University of Bologna. The results of this application encourage a systematic investigation on the properties of this kind of joints, not previously described in the literature, aiming at mechanical characterization and definition of design criteria. To this purpose, the paper outlines a general investigation programme, where theoretical models, Finite Elements analysis and experiments jointly contribute to the evaluation of the hinge stiffness and to the identification of influential design parameters. Preliminary results related to evaluation of the stiffness about the principal bending axis are then examined and discussed, comparing the results obtained from experiments with those achieved by means of a simplified mathematical model and the correspondent FE analysis. An auxiliary parameter is finally introduced in order to define a general criterion for the design of spring-based hinges subjected to large deflection.

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