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World Journal of Mechanical Engineering

Vol. 4(2), pp. 041-048, August, 2019. © www.premierpublishers.org. ISSN: 1550-7316

Research Article

Stairs Detection Algorithm for Tri-Star Wheeled Robot

and Experimental Validation
Aye Mya Mya Thu
Department of Mechatronic Engineering, Yangon Technological University, East Gyogone, Insein, Yangon, Myanmar.
E-Mail: ayemyathu579@gmail.com, Tel: +95 9970353549.

This paper presents two contributions in the development of stair detection algorithm for climbing
robot. First, a new tri-star wheeled mechanism was developed to smoothly overcome the stairs.
Second, the sensor-based algorithm was proposed for detection of stairs and switching states
autonomously. Two motor driven ultrasonic sensors feed the posture information of the robot
back to the controller to recognize the climbing environment. The validity of the proposed
algorithm was demonstrated through experiments in realizing climbing environment. The
experiments prove that the proposed algorithm can do rolling, ascending and descending on the

Keywords: Climbing robot, Detection algorithm, Mechanism design, Range sensing, Sensor-based control.

To cope with the climbing environment in the real world, et al. (2009), in order to improve their motion control and
various research efforts have been directed toward the pose estimation. Lai et al. (2010) conducted the
development of a robot capable of autonomous stair development of an image based cross-floor navigation
climbing. Staircase is a common obstacle that a mobile method combined with wireless modules. Lai et al. (2009)
search and rescue robot may encounter during every investigated methods to detect and locate curbs and
mission. Climbing up and down stairs for a mobile robot is stairways using stereo vision. The previous researches are
not an easy task. Zhang et al. (2011) developed a laser very motivated for the climbing environment but the
based algorithm where a vertical laser and sonar sensor recognitions of climbing environment are not so simple for
are used to identify stairs and a fuzzy control system is those who unfamiliar with image processing. To simply
developed to ensure that the robot does not stray from the cope with the above complex techniques, safe and
centerline of the stairs during approaching the staircases. autonomous stair climbing algorithm is proposed and
The autonomous stair climbing algorithm was implemented implemented for a new tri-star wheeled robot in this paper.
on tracked robot by Vu et al. (2008), Pinhas et al. (2007),
Shi et al. (2017) and Morozovsky et al. (2015) which is Aiming at the functional requirement of climbing the stairs,
based on multi-sensor fusion and camera detection. Cong Aye et al. (2016) has been reported on dynamics and
et al. (2007) implemented a stair detection method kinematics analysis during a tri-star wheeled mobile robot’s
implemented on UGV with the innovation of a control climbing of stairs. Simulation results are also provided that
algorithm using Kinect v2 depth sensor to recognize and the calculations are valid. This study aims to develop
measure stairs for stair climbing tasks of tracked robot. simple sensor-based stair detection algorithm combined
Michael et al. (2014) proved that the wheelchair is the with the reliable control strategy to switch rolling,
solution for the demographic change in society as it ascending and descending states. To climb the stair
promises the maximum of mobility for people who suffer autonomously, two motor driven ultrasonic sensors feed
physical impairment due to a stair climbing function and a the posture information of the robot back to the controller.
car integration. Kinematics based approach has been The proposed algorithm is based on the sensors’
proposed for rescue robot in the performance of Kalantari information during approaching and landing. As a smooth

Stairs Detection Algorithm for Tri-Star Wheeled Robot and Experimental Validation
Aye MMT 042

they must be always in the predefined positions providing

for the proposed algorithm. Besides, two motor driven
ultrasonic sensors will give the stable output just with the
use of interrupt pin for two sensors and the power for two
servomotors are individually given by the motor driver. The
other considerations will give the unstable outcomes as
shown in Figure 3. Due to the requirement of predicting the
deviation of ultrasonic sensors, one gyro sensor is used to
detect the inclination angle of the robot’s body. In this way,
two ultrasonic sensors will be reached back to the original
position every time when they are conflicted. Unlike the
conventional robots, the tri-star wheeled robot can perform
Figure 1: Sensors and actuators demonstration of the two rotations: wheel rotation leading the robot to rolling and
proposed tri-star wheeled robot. (Source: Author) tri-star frame rotation leading the robot to ascending and
descending. Thus, two encoders are used to individually
outcome, it completes the switching state to the robot. To measure two rotations. Here, it is needed to note that both
ascend and descend the stairs with the simplest way is the of rolling angle and tri-star angle are driven by the same
motivation of this paper but not to reduce the number of actuator. So, it is reliable that rolling angle is not rotating
sensors and actuators. The main contribution of altogether with the rotation of tri-star frame angle although
mechanism design is the use of only one actuator to drive the vice versa is operated.
both of wheel rotation and tri-star frame rotation. The
limitation is that the proposed system is appropriate for the
proposed stair. This means that if other stairs design is
approached, the successive probability of proposed
algorithm may be less effective although not absolutely


This section presents a brief introduction to the proposed

system. The mechanism design used in the experiment is
very simple and the focus is to use only one actuator
rotating forward for rolling and backward for climbing. By
redirecting the function of reversing the actuator to
climbing, it loses the capability of rolling the vehicle
backward with a single actuator. Actually, it is the strong
point of the proposed contribution although it seems
drawback because falling backward condition can be
prevented during the climbing motion.

If there is any request for desired application areas, the

other movements like backward and turning can be
achieved by the additional derivative set of mechanism and
the development of control algorithm. Structure
components of the proposed design is demonstrated in
Figure 1. Due to the complexity of autonomous stair
climbing, the procedure is then decomposed into a
sequence of three individual tasks with the additional
stages as illustrated in Figure 2. The proposed design
incorporates a number of sensors and actuators, which
leads the robot to simply switch among rolling, ascending
and descending. The proposed system is not only to
operate on the flat surface like the conventional wheels but
also to drive on the inclined surface in order to overcome
Figure 2: Flow chart of the proposed algorithm.
the stairs. Therefore, two ultrasonic sensors are needed to
(Source: Author)
be controlled by the two individual servomotors because

Stairs Detection Algorithm for Tri-Star Wheeled Robot and Experimental Validation
World J. Mech. Engin. 043

An additional check of tri-star frame rotation has provided

to confirm that the robot can safely land on the stair surface
and can assist to the detection of two sensors before
changing to the next state. Although the two sensors are
always updating the information, the changes are valid just
after landing the tri-star frame. The relevant velocity is also
applied to the robot for each state heading to have the
smarter and safer sequence for the system.


This section describes the design and implementation of
the stair detection algorithm for the proposed robot. The
objectives and approaches for the individual stages will be
introduced respectively with the emphasis on range
detection of the two motor driven ultrasonic sensors. The
effectiveness of sensor ranges on different stair sizes
leading to optimize the appropriate setting of sensors’
positions and height of staircases. The contribution of
algorithm is detailed in Algorithm 1, where the notations are
adopted as follows: d is the distance between the
horizontal ultrasonic sensor and the step, α is the threshold
value for d, x is the inclined distance between the inclined
ultrasonic sensor and the step, and γ is the threshold value
for x. Then, θ is the rotation angle of tri-star frame. These
variables are input to the controller and as the output the
robot will do rolling, ascending and descending. Initially,
the robot will start with rolling meaning that tri-star frame
switch denoted as sT and speed down switch denoted as
sSD are off. The condition of inclined sensor will be always
in the state of x <=γ while facing with the upstairs.

Figure 4: Demonstration of the proposed algorithm.

Figure 3: Experimental results of two motor driven (Source: Author)
ultrasonic sensors: (a) with interrupt pin and with power
from motor driver, (b) with interrupt pin and without power As soon as the tri-star frame rotation is started, it will be
from motor driver, (c) without interrupt pin and with power always recorded and when reach to the multiples of 120
from motor driver, (d) without interrupt pin and without degrees, the information of two sensors will be checked
power from motor driver. (Source: Author) again to give the switch decision to the robot. In switching
to descending state, switch sT do the same function with an
For the horizontal sensor, if α+1 <= d <= α +2 is detected, ascending state because the tri-star frame rotation makes
the robot has to change a low forward velocity before the robot both ascending and descending. The result is
accelerating to the desired ascending velocity during completely depended on the distance changes of two
closing to the stairs to prevent the mechanism from sensors. In this state, both of x and d are required to be
bumping about the first step. So, sSD will be on. If the value greater than the threshold values to get descending state.
of d is absolutely equal to the threshold value of α, switch If not, rolling state will be occupied. Furthermore, activation
sT will on and the rolling state will switch to ascending state. of wheel rotation results in rolling state and

Stairs Detection Algorithm for Tri-Star Wheeled Robot and Experimental Validation
Aye MMT 044

ascending/descending state outcomes from activation of SENSORS AND ACTUATORS

tri-star frame rotation. Demonstration of the proposed
algorithm is shown in Figure 4. The challenge of proposed algorithm is to identify and
conquer the individual steps with clearly defined switching
states. To overcome the complete computation of
staircase’s parameters, only the information from two
ultrasonic sensors are used to predict the existence of stair
on ahead of. The demonstration of two ultrasonic sensors
is illustrated in Figure 5. The strategy to control the sensors
and actuators is very important to give the complete
information to the controller and to provide for the switching
decision of the proposed algorithm. Ascending and
descending the stairs can be divided into three main tasks.
(1) Approaching, (2) Climbing and (3) Landing. To be
always kept the two sensors in leading ahead is tuned by
two servomotors during approaching and after landing. Tri-
star frame angle rotation is undertaking after approaching
to complete climbing.

Figure 5: Demonstration of sensors and actuators.

(Source: Author)

1) Prediction about Upstairs: The first ultrasonic sensor

is implemented in the horizontal direction to be parallel
with the ground level. This one is intended to detect the
condition that there is the stair or not in front of the
robot leading to know before the upstairs. If not the
mechanism can be damaged by bumping with the
staircase. To prevent from this condition, the horizontal
ultrasonic sensor is needed to let the robot know
before the mechanism touches with the stair.
2) Prediction about Downstairs: The second ultrasonic
sensor is mounted in the inclined position to be parallel
with the tri-star frame instead of horizontally. This is
because it is intended for the prediction of downstairs.
Unlike with the upstairs, downstairs are located in the
inclined position and they cannot be detected with
horizontal sensor. This can lead to the falling down of
the robot. Implementing the second sensor in incline
position can solve these problems. Therefore, the
robot will know before the downstairs.
3) Detection of the Inclination of Robot’s Body: For
the heading control of two ultrasonic sensors, a simple
control algorithm is implemented. Utilizing the control
algorithm and with gyro feedback, experimental results
show that the sensors are able to maintain the desired
heading while the robot is on inclined surface, and give

Stairs Detection Algorithm for Tri-Star Wheeled Robot and Experimental Validation
World J. Mech. Engin. 045

the correct information to the controller if there are no in Figure 6(b) and Figure 6(c), according to the
significant effects on the robot heading. Significant changes of inclination angle of robot’s body as shown
heading errors occur when the climbing environment is in Figure 6(a). If the state of tri-star frame angle is
rough or disturbed by other obstacles except the steps. satisfied with the multiples of 120 degrees, the first
These errors are normal for the sensors as their consideration is to check the information from
feedback is based on the sound signal. Experimental horizontal sensor. If d > γ, it means the robot is not
results in Figure 6 and Figure 7 show that the robot is close up to the step. But only this information is not
able to overcome and continue the stair climbing with possible for the robot to have the accurate decision.
desired switching state using the proposed algorithm. Therefore, the second consideration is added to
ensure that the inclined sensor is less than or equal to
4) Specifications of Sensors and Actuators: The the threshold value (x <= γ). If so, the robot will be on
configurations related to the devices used in the flat surface with the normal velocity defined for rolling
proposed system are described in the following table. state. Here, the tri-star frame angle, θ will be zero and
only the rolling angle, β will be activated since it is the
Sensors and rolling state. In this situation, the gyro feedback is not
actuators Descriptions considered as the two sensors are in initial states.
Ultrasonic Supply voltage :5V Since the robot is in rolling state, the information from
sensor Current : 15 mA two sensors are always changes and when the range
Frequency :40 kHz of d is within the deviation of increment or decrement
Maximal range : 400 cm of 2 compared to the threshold value, the previous
Minimal range : 3 cm velocity will be decreased in order to prevent the
Trigger pulse width: 10 μs mechanism from bumping into the steps. After 4 sec,
Gyro sensor Power supply : 4.3 to 9 V the data in Figure 6(d) and Figure 6(e) show that the
Gyroscope range: +/-250, 500, 1000, 2000 °/s actual distance of ultrasonic sensor 1, d becomes
Acceleration range: +/-2, 4, 8,16 g
equal to the threshold value of α and the actual
Weight : 2.1 g (0.07oz)
distance of ultrasonic sensor 2, x becomes greater
Servo motor Operating voltage : 4.8-6.0 V
than γ then the velocity will be increased enough to
Operating speed (4.8V): 0.23sec/60 degrees
Operating Speed (6.0V): 0.19sec/60 degrees climb the step because ascending state require the
Stall Torque (4.8V) : 44 oz/in (3.2kg.cm) higher torque than rolling state and as a result the
Stall Torque (6.0V) : 56.8 oz/in (4.1kg.cm) rolling mode is switched to the ascending mode as
Weight : 1.3 oz (37.2g) shown in Figure 6(g) and the descending mode is off
Actuator Nominal voltage: 12 V during the ascending mode is on as can be seen in
Gear ratio : 100 : 1 Figure 6(h). Once the ascending mode is on, the tri-
Stall current :6A star frame is rotated starting from zero as shown in
Output torque : 1.55 Nm Figure 6(f), and at the same time the rolling angle, β is
Rotary encoder : 64 CPR simultaneously rotated altogether with the rotation of θ
Motor power : 12 V because of the mechanism design as can be seen in
No load speed :100 rpm Figure 6(i). After landing on the first step, the gyro
Weight : 230 g feedback is considered to recover the deviation of two
sensors. Similar actions will be activated when the next
DETECTION AND APPROACH step is approached. To satisfy the detection of upstairs
and to ascend each step, just 120 degrees’ rotation of
The main motivation of using ultrasonic sensors is to tri-star frame is needed. Therefore, as confirmed in
complete the stairs detection process without calculating Figure 6(f), one revolution and 120 degrees of tri-star
the complete parameters of staircases (i.e, height, width, frame angle is required to overcome four steps. So,
length, inclination). Two sensors will be simultaneously counter-clockwise rotation of the actuator gives the tri-
detected the stair and proposed algorithm will assist for the star motion.
robot to decide the stair on ahead of is upstairs or 2) Detection of Descending State: For the downstairs,
downstairs. Then, the tri-star frame rotation will also be the information of inclined ultrasonic sensor plays in a
always checked. Every time when it reaches to the vital role to let the robot know before the steps and to
multiples of 120 (0, 120, 240, 360) degree, the information prevent from falling down. Initially, the robot is at the
of two ultrasonic sensors will be checked again for the top of the downstairs and the distance of horizontal
switching states. ultrasonic sensor is always greater than the threshold
value. As the initial state of descending is rolling mode,
1) Detection of Ascending State: As the actuator is the condition of d > γ, x <= γ, θ = 0 have been satisfied
started to activate, the two servomotors are rotated to and β will be activated with the rolling velocity. The
control the orientation of two sensors, as demonstrated approach to downstairs is straightforward with the

Stairs Detection Algorithm for Tri-Star Wheeled Robot and Experimental Validation
Aye MMT 046

Figure 6: Experimental results of switching state between Figure 7: Experimental results of switching state
rolling mode and ascending mode based on such data between rolling mode and descending mode based on
of λ, μ, σ, d, x, θ and β. (Source: Author) such data of λ, μ, σ, d, x, θ and β. (Source: Author)

desired position of two sensors and the gyro feedback the staircase surface and its scope can be adjusted
is not affected. The more the robot is close up to the according to the height of staircase. The adjustable
down steps, the greater the range of inclined sensor. If ones are the postures of two ultrasonic sensors and
x > γ is satisfied, the rolling velocity is needed to be two servomotors which are denoted as h1 and h2.
decreased to safely overcome the steps because
descending state does not require the higher torque as
in ascending state. Then, the descending state will be
switched smoothly. This means that wheel rotation is
changed to tri-star frame rotation. Thus, as in the
ascending state, tri-star frame angle is initiated to
rotate starting from zero simultaneously with the
activation of rolling angle. Throughout the changes of
desired position, the two sensors will orientate
themselves to the desired heading, based on the
information obtained from the gyro sensor. To
overcome a down step and to complete landing, the
triangle position of tri-star frame which means 240
degrees is needed to rotate. Since the proposed stair
has four steps, the tri-star frame is needed to rotate
two revolutions and 240 degrees for the whole
scenario. This was confirmed in Figure 7(f) with the Figure 8: Setting of untouchable area for different stairs
instantaneous rotation of rolling angle as can be seen size. (Source: Author)
in Figure 7(i).
3) Declaration of Nomenclatures: The nomenclatures Normally, the robot can overcome the height of step
used in the paper can be denoted as follows: that is equal to the radius of the tri-star frame. The two
λ = inclination angle of the robot’s body, sensors can provide the valid information for the
μ = rotation angle of servo motor 1 with respect to λ, proposed stair design. So, the other conditions should
σ = rotation angle of servo motor 2 with respect to λ, also be considered about the stairs different from the
d = actual distance of ultrasonic sensor 1, proposed one. For the lower step, the robot will
x = actual distance of ultrasonic sensor 2, overcome with the rolling state instead of ascending
θ = tri-star frame angle, state because the height of step is too low for two
β = rolling angle. sensors to capture the distances. If the step is a little
4) Range Limitations for Different Stairs Size: The lower than the proposed one that means the horizontal
robot first needed to find the scope of untouchable sensor captures the fluctuated distance, the stair
area, see in Figure 8, where the area must not meet climbing probability of robot will depend on the landing

Stairs Detection Algorithm for Tri-Star Wheeled Robot and Experimental Validation
World J. Mech. Engin. 047

position of tri-star frame. If the fluctuated signal is got

while the tri-star frame is out of the multiples of 120
degrees, the input signal to the controller is not
effective to the switching state. Otherwise, the wrong
information can conflict to the state decision. For the
higher step, the robot is sure not to overcome the step.
If the tri-star frame is fortunately flip over the step, the
inclined sensor will be bumping to the step surface. So,
the most satisfaction step for the proposed robot is the
height between the upper level of horizontal ultrasonic
sensor and the center of tri-star frame. Figure 9 shows
the demonstration of range limitations for two
controlled ultrasonic sensors.

Figure 10: Optimization of robot’s climbing ability based on

H, q and r0. (Source: Author)


In this paper, a complete stair climbing up and down

scheme has been proposed where the tasks involve
detection of stairs, preparation stage, actual ascending,
actual descending and subsequent landing. It is especially
verified that the use of two directional control ultrasonic
sensors can provide the better stair detection and the safe
descending state instead of the use of one sensor.
Moreover, sensing the stairs with two sensors can easily
recognize the climbing environment. The proposed
algorithm is clearly detailed in pseudo code and also with
the demonstration layout. Experimental results have been
presented to validate the subsequent performance of the
proposed algorithm. The algorithm developed in this paper
was tested in a number of scenarios and has been proven
to perform successfully on the proposed staircase. The
proposed system provides the operation of one set of tri-
star on ascending and descending staircase. The
additional sets are needed to constructed with the
Figure 9: Range limitations of two controlled ultrasonic
development of switching algorithm for backward and
sensors on different stairs size. (Source: Author)
turning movements.
5) Optimization of stair climbing ability: Depending on
the radius of tri-star frame and the scope of REFERENCES
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Stairs Detection Algorithm for Tri-Star Wheeled Robot and Experimental Validation