To co-work with humans, robotic mechanisms need to have variable stiffness with high rigidity for performance and low compliance for safe interactions. This paper introduces a reconfigurable variable-stiffness parallel beam (VSPB) which can be used in both robotic joints and links for variable compliance. The VSPB is a compliant cantilever mechanism with hollow parallel beams in the middle and solid connections at both ends. Stiffness adjusting can be realized by changing the cross-sectional area property of the hollow beam segment discretely through a bistable mechanism block or continuously by the block sliding. Detailed stiffness models of the two VSPB stiffness modes with the block on and off are derived using the approach of serially connected beam modeling and superposition combination. The developed model not only works for thin-walled flexure beams but also general thick beam models. The stiffness change relationship with various design parameters is investigated using the developed model and validated by finite element analysis (FEA) results. The correlation between parameters and errors between FEA and theoretical values is observed and analyzed to optimize the model. These methods and results provide a new concept and theoretical basis for developing new variable stiffness robotic mechanisms towards safe human-robot interaction applications.

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