In kinematics, physics and especially robotics, we often encounter the terms Twist and Wrench. Twist is (LinearVelocity, AngularVelocity) and Wrench is (Force, Torque). The reason I'm confused is I see different definitions and I'm no longer sure if I'm using these terms correctly...

  • Per Wikipedia, Twist is defined in context of screw theory and it has linear velocity and angular velocity both along same axis.
  • Some robotics literature uses Twist to have linear velocity part as (V + L X W). This allows to computer work more easily.
  • In ROS, popular robotics platform, Twist is simply independent linear and angular velocities.


  1. Is it correct to use the term Twist simply as combination of individual linear and angular velocities for any body?
  2. Is there any similar term to describe combined linear and angular accelerations?
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that those terms may be more specific to robotics (or at least to some fields in engineering) than the opening sentence lets on. I've literally never heard them before. $\endgroup$ Dec 11, 2016 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ Related answer: physics.stackexchange.com/a/173472/392 $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2016 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ Online presentation by the best known disciple of Stawell Ball on modern Screw theory. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2016 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much @JohnAlexiou $\endgroup$
    – Babu
    Oct 7, 2020 at 16:26

2 Answers 2


Both twist and wrenches are screws. "Screw" is the general term, and "Twist" is the specific application to motion whereas "Wrench" is the specific application to forces and momentum. All of them combine the linear and angular aspects of the thing they describe in one 6×1 object. The definitions pertain to rigid body mechanics in general and are not specific to robotics.

I hope the following definitions will help you out:

  • Ray/Axis A 3D Screw is an object that represents a line in space (direction & location) in addition to a magnitude and a pitch value. A screw has 6 components and they are arranged as a vector $\mathbf{e}$ of direction and a vector $\mathbf{m}$ of moment. There are two possible ways to represent a screw, a) Direction then Moment or b) Moment then Direction $$ {\rm Screw} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{e} \\ \mathbf{m} \end{pmatrix} & \mbox{ray coordinates} \\ \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{m} \\ \mathbf{e} \end{pmatrix} & \mbox{axis coordinates} \end{array} \right. $$
  • Line Composition Consider a line in space with unit direction vector $\hat{\mathbf{e}}$ and any point on the line $\mathbf{r}$. The line object can be represented with the following coordinates $$ {\rm Line} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} \begin{pmatrix} \hat{\mathbf{e}} \\ \mathbf{r}\times\hat{\mathbf{e}} \end{pmatrix} & \mbox{ray coordinates} \\ \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{r}\times\hat{\mathbf{e}} \\ \hat{\mathbf{e}} \end{pmatrix} & \mbox{axis coordinates} \end{array} \right. $$ The direction vector is such because it remains the same throughout 3D space (free vector), whereas the moment vector needs to be transformed if the location of interest changes (line vector). This is evident above where the moment vector is defined as the cross product between location and the direction vector.
  • Screw Composition Consider the line above, but add a scalar magnitude $s$ and a scalar pitch $h$. The screw object is similar to the line object but with an additional term parallel to the direction $\hat{\mathbf{e}}$ in the moment vector. $$ {\rm Screw} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} s \begin{pmatrix} \hat{\mathbf{e}} \\ \mathbf{r}\times\hat{\mathbf{e}}+ h\, \hat{\mathbf{e}} \end{pmatrix} & \mbox{ray coordinates} \\ s \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{r}\times\hat{\mathbf{e}}+ h\, \hat{\mathbf{e}} \\ \hat{\mathbf{e}} \end{pmatrix} & \mbox{axis coordinates} \end{array} \right. $$ A pitch represents any components of the moment vector that are parallel to the direction vector as a scalar ratio $h = \frac{\| \mathbf{m}_\parallel \|}{\| \mathbf{e} \|}$
  • Screw Decomposition For both ray and axis representation the properties of a screw with direction vector (non unit) $\mathbf{e}$ and moment vector $\mathbf{m}$ are found with the following formulas $$\begin{align} \mbox{Magnitude} & & s & = \| \mathbf{e} \| \\ \mbox{Unit Direction} & & \hat{\mathbf{e}} &=\frac{\mathbf{e}}{\| \mathbf{e} \|} \\ \mbox{Position Closest To Origin} & & \mathbf{r} & = \frac{\mathbf{e} \times \mathbf{m}}{ \| \mathbf{e} \|^2 }\\ \mbox{Pitch} & & h & = \frac{\mathbf{e} \cdot \mathbf{m}}{ \| \mathbf{e} \|^2 }\\ \end{align}$$ NOTE: $\times$ is the vector cross product, and $\cdot$ the vector dot product.
  • Twists A twist is a screw representing motion (infinitesimal rotation, velocity and spatial acceleration, joint axis). The direction vector angular part, and the moment vector is the linear part (at a fixed point A). For example velocities are $$\begin{align} & \mbox{Axis Coordinates} & & \mbox{Ray Coordinates} \\ \mathbf{v}_A & = \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{v}_A \\ {\boldsymbol \omega} \end{pmatrix} & \mathbf{v}_A & = \begin{pmatrix} {\boldsymbol \omega} \\ \mathbf{v}_A \end{pmatrix} \end{align}$$ Axis coordinates are the most common for twists, but not always. A lot of confusion arises from this as people often use twists and axis coordinates interchangingly. Remember, a twist represents some kind of motion and the coordinate representation has to do with the order in which the direction vector and moment vector is represented.
  • Wrench A wrench is a screw representing loading (force, momentum, impulse). The direction vector linear part, and the moment vector is the angular part (at a fixed point A). For example forces are $$\begin{align} & \mbox{Axis Coordinates} & & \mbox{Ray Coordinates} \\ \mathbf{f}_A & = \begin{pmatrix} {\boldsymbol \tau}_A \\ \mathbf{F} \end{pmatrix} & \mathbf{f}_A & = \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{F} \\ {\boldsymbol \tau}_A \end{pmatrix} \end{align}$$ Ray coordinates are the most common for wrenches, but not always.
  • Interpretation Both twists and wrenches represent an object at distance. For example a force $\mathbf{F}$ though a point A has torque ${\boldsymbol \tau}_A = \mathbf{r}_A \times \mathbf{F}$. And the velocity of a body rotating about a point A is $\mathbf{v}_A = \mathbf{r}_A \times \mathbf{\omega}$. Both are the moment vectors of the corresponding screws. In the most common notation these are $$ \begin{align} \mathbf{v}_A & = \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{r}_A \times {\boldsymbol \omega} \\ {\boldsymbol \omega} \end{pmatrix} & \mbox{twist in (linear,angular)=axis coordinates} \\ \mathbf{f}_A & = \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{F}\\ \mathbf{r}_A \times \mathbf{F} \end{pmatrix} & \mbox{wrench in (linear,angular)=ray coordinates} \end{align} $$ You can see that these are identical to the line compositions.
  • Twist Example A body in motion has angular velocity $\mathbf{\omega} = (1,0,5)$ and linear velocity a point A $\mathbf{v}_A = (-2,4,1)$. Show the motion as a twist in axis coordinates and decompose it into its properties
  • Twist in axis coordinates (6×1 quantity) $$\mathbf{v}_A = \begin{pmatrix} \mbox{moment} \\ \mbox{direction} \end{pmatrix} = \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{v}_A \\ {\boldsymbol \omega} \end{pmatrix} = \begin{pmatrix} \begin{vmatrix} -2 \\ 4 \\ 1 \end{vmatrix} \\ \begin{vmatrix} 1 \\ 0 \\ 5 \end{vmatrix} \end{pmatrix} $$
  • Magnitude: $\| \begin{vmatrix} 1 \\ 0 \\ 5 \end{vmatrix} \| = \sqrt{26}$
  • Direction: $ \frac{ \begin{vmatrix} 1 \\ 0 \\ 5 \end{vmatrix} }{\sqrt{26}} = \begin{vmatrix} \frac{1}{\sqrt{26}} \\ 0 \\ \frac{5}{\sqrt{26}} \end{vmatrix}$
  • Position: $ \frac{\begin{vmatrix} 1 \\ 0 \\ 5 \end{vmatrix} \times \begin{vmatrix} -2 \\ 4 \\ 1 \end{vmatrix}}{\sqrt{26}^2} = \begin{vmatrix} -\frac{10}{13} \\ -\frac{11}{26} \\ \frac{2}{13} \end{vmatrix}$
  • Pitch: $\frac{\begin{vmatrix} 1 \\ 0 \\ 5 \end{vmatrix} \cdot \begin{vmatrix} -2 \\ 4 \\ 1 \end{vmatrix}}{\sqrt{26}^2}= \frac{3}{26} $
  • Parallel velocity vector: $\mbox{(pitch)} {\boldsymbol \omega} = \frac{3}{26} \begin{vmatrix} 1 \\ 0 \\ 5 \end{vmatrix} = \begin{vmatrix} \frac{3}{26} \\ 0 \\ \frac{15}{26} \end{vmatrix}$

The above represents the geometry of the motion in all the detail that is available from the two pieces of information, the linear and angular velocity at one point.

Similarly for wrenches. The 6 components that define them are decomposed into magnitude, direction, position and pitch.

Related posts. Forces as Screws, Motion Screw and Instant Rotation Axis

For your second question, linear and angular acceleration does not form a twist (motion screw) because they contain centrifugal terms that do not transform like normal screws. This is because regular acceleration tracks a specific particle, and the screw quantities have a point of measurement fixed in space.

You can however construct an acceleration twist, if instead of using the regular (material) acceleration, you use spatial accelerations. At any point A the spatial acceleration vector ${\boldsymbol \psi}_A$ is the material acceleration $\mathbf{a}_A$ minus the centrifugal terms. $$ {\boldsymbol \psi}_A = \mathbf{a}_A - {\boldsymbol \omega} \times \mathbf{v}_A$$

Then the acceleration twist in axis coordinate is defined as:

$${\boldsymbol \psi}_A = \begin{pmatrix} \mbox{moment} \\ \mbox{direction} \end{pmatrix} = \begin{pmatrix} \mathbf{a}_A - {\boldsymbol \omega} \times \mathbf{v}_A \\ {\boldsymbol \alpha} \end{pmatrix} $$

The above is used the 6×6 equations of motion

$$ \mathbf{f}_A = \mathrm{I}_A {\boldsymbol \psi}_A + \mathbf{v}_A \times \mathrm{I}_A \mathbf{v}_A $$

But that is a subject of another question, as the derivation of the spatial equations of motion is rather involved at this stage.


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    $\begingroup$ I have a presentation that explains these "basics" that I am going to post to researchgate.net at some point. I will post the link here when I have it. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2016 at 3:12
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    $\begingroup$ Added a section in the end to address the specific question about an acceleration screw. $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2017 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ This is of great help, thanks :) Just a if I may, I would highly appreciate if you could shed some light on a question that I believe is related with the last part of your above answer (because of the number of words I need to split it in two comments): $$$$ Given that the exponential matrix of a twist, as explained in [1]: $$\exp\left(\begin{bmatrix} \mathbf{v}_A\\ \boldsymbol{\omega}_A \end{bmatrix}\right)= \mathbf{T}_{ab}^{-1}\dot{\mathbf{T}}_{ab} $$ where $\mathbf{T}_{ab}$ is the transformation matrix that expresses the orientation and translation of a frame $b$ w.r.t. $\endgroup$
    – Javier TG
    Sep 29, 2021 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ I am sorry that I did a mistake in the first equation. I misused the exponential matrix. The corrected equation makes use of the Lie algebra representation of the twist $[]_\times$: $$\begin{bmatrix} \mathbf{v}_A\\ \boldsymbol{\omega}_A \end{bmatrix}_\times = \begin{bmatrix} [\boldsymbol{\omega}_A]_\times & \mathbf{v}_A\\ \mathbf{0} & 0 \end{bmatrix} = \mathbf{T}_{ab}^{-1}\dot{\mathbf{T}}_{ab} $$ Where $[\boldsymbol{\omega}_A]_\times$ is the skew-symmetric representation of the angular velocity $\boldsymbol{\omega}_A$. $\endgroup$
    – Javier TG
    Sep 30, 2021 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ In terms of twists you have $$\begin{bmatrix} \boldsymbol{v}_A \\ \boldsymbol{\omega} \end{bmatrix} \times = \begin{bmatrix} \boldsymbol{\omega} \times & \boldsymbol{v}_A \times \\ 0 & \boldsymbol{\omega} \times \end{bmatrix}$$ note that $\boldsymbol{\omega}$ is a property of the body and not related to a speciic point A, so no subscript. $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2021 at 12:13

The difference, from what you've posted, seems to depend on the presence of absence of force. I'm not familiar with trade-specific robotics terminology but I do notice in your question:

Twist is (LinearVelocity, AngularVelocity) and Wrench is (Force, Torque). 

Note that you can have a velocity without a force or an angular velocity without a torque. If you apply a torque to begin a top spinning, it continues to spin after you let go.

In free space you can set a top spinning and push it along the spin axis, and a point in the rim of the top will describe a helix in space as it travels. The specific ratio of the linear and angular momenta describes a particular twist (as I understand the term as you've used it). This can be compared to, for example the 'pitch' of a screw thread - how many threads per inch, for example. Again, a ratio of a rotational measure to a linear measure along the same axis.

On the other hand, wrench relates force (linear) and torque (rotational). Again, it appears to be a ratio. Given a mass, a wrench applied to the mass will transfer a particular combination of linear and angular momenta and result in a particular twist.

In other words, twist references the velocities and wrench references the accelerations.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually linear and angular momentum form a wrench, and acceleration forms a twist (sort of). The term twists is used to describe motion related quantities, and wrench action or force related quantities. $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2017 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ @ja72 momentum is a measure of motion and force causes acceleration. Your comment seems to contradict itself. $\endgroup$
    – Asher
    Dec 23, 2017 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ Momentum, defined as the quantity applied to stop motion is actually a measure of force (over time). Momentum is the area under the Force time curve. $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2017 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ The general rule is the mass or inertia transforms motion twisis into force wrenches. Think of $\mathbf{p} = m \mathbf{v}$ or $\mathbf{L} = \mathrm{I}_C {\boldsymbol \omega}$. $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2017 at 22:11

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