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A method for the design of controllers of constrained manipulators in the presence of model uncertainties is developed. The controller must carry out fine maneuvers when the manipulator is not constrained, and compliant motion, with or without interaction-force measurement, when the manipulator is constrained. At the same time stability must be preserved if bounded uncertainties are allowed in modelling the manipulators. Stability of the manipulator and environment as a whole and the preservation of stability in the face of changes are two fundamental issues that have been considered in the design method. A set of practical design specifications in the frequency domain is presented that is meaningful from the standpoint of control theory and assures the desired compliant motion in the Cartesian coordinate frame and stability in the presence of bounded uncertainties. This approach also assures the global stability of the manipulator and its environment. The consequence of inexact achievement of performance specifications on stability is also specified. Part I concerns the fundamentals of compliant motion, while Part II is devoted to the controller design method.