Robotics and Intelligence Systems >> Mobile Manipulation

Mobile Manipulation


Quick Summary
Emergency response demands a very different kind of robotic solution than those created for known environments (e.g. factory robots) and well understood tasks (e.g. power plant maintenance). The INL has developed highly mobile, highly dexterous robots that can function autonomously or semi-autonomously as a human surrogate in critical emergency situations. Under the mobile manipulation initiative, the INL is collaborating with NASA Johnson Space Center to merge an autonomous mobile robot base running the INL Intelligence Kernel with the NASA Robonaut torso. Also, the INL is merging autonomous reaching and grasping behaviors developed at the University of Texas, Austin with the INL Intelligence Kernel to carry out tasks such as autonomously opening doors and retrieving objects within cluttered indoor settings. The ability of these systems to exploit environments and tools designed for humans allow them to be used in emergency situations where there is no time to develop a niche-specific robot, such as time critical threats involving Chemical/Biological/Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) hazards.

Mobile manipulation offers a compelling opportunity to meld human intelligence with robotic proficiency. At the same time, the many degrees of freedom present new challenges. The robots currently used in critical and hazardous environments including military, energy, industry, and homeland defense contexts require a teleoperator to control these many degrees of freedom. This teleoperated approach requires significant training and is subject to all of the communication challenges associated with continuous master-slave control. To address these challenges, the Mobile Manipulation initiative at the INL is developing flexible autonomy that can support changing levels of operator involvement (i.e., teleoperation, shared control, autonomy), and also changing areas of operator focus (i.e., driving, grasping, reaching, visual servoing, etc.). To support these levels of control, research is necessary to combine simultaneous mapping and localization, obstacle avoidance, path planning, and waypoint behaviors with the physical dexterity, visual perception, and autonomous manipulation capabilities necessary to open doors, assemble simple structures, and use tools designed for human hands.

explosive ordinance disposal Packbot
Explosive Ordinance Disposal Packbot

Through the Joint Robotics Program (JRP) Technology Transfer Program, the INL is working with the Naval Space and Warfare Center in San Diego, which has provided an all-terrain robot platform to be used as the basis for developing mobile manipulation capabilities. The mobile manipulation initiative also includes Brigham Young University in Provo, which is working to develop novel graphical interfaces for tasking intelligent mobile manipulation systems. Also, under this collaborative endeavor, the University of Texas at Austin has worked to marry the current INL Robot Intelligence Kernel with the Operational Software Components for Advanced Robotics (OSCAR) — an object-oriented framework for the development of generic manipulator control algorithms. The goal of this effort is to make mobile manipulation capabilities viable for near-term use in critical, hazardous environments. The Robot Intelligence Kernel is being ported onto the PackBot and Talon robots for near-term deployment in Iraq.

For a variety of explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) and improvised explosive device (IED) defeat applications, these robots will benefit from autonomous reaching and grasping capabilities as well as other manipulation capabilities that can be derived from the OSCAR framework. Currently, the EOD Packbot and other robots that have manipulation capabilities require operators to have extensive training and to devote significant workload to the manipulation as well as navigation aspects of the task. By using intelligent navigation and manipulation behaviors as part of a dynamic autonomy architecture, it may be possible to reduce training and workload demands on the operator.

Another area where mobile manipulation capabilities may be utilized is space and planetary exploration. Under the mobile manipulation initiative, the INL has been working to develop a suite of capabilities that can be used to facilitate the near-term use of the Robonaut system developed by the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC). Efforts are underway to adapt the capabilities of the INL Robot Intelligence Kernel to provide intelligent mobility to the humanoid torso.

NASA JSC has developed autonomous behaviors for visual perception, reaching, grasping, and handling. The INL has developed robust, reliable mobility behaviors, decision-making, and self-status assessment on board the robot platform. The mobile manipulation initiative is intended to marry these capabilities into a single behavior architecture and apply it to real-world tasks in unstructured environments. Although the primary objective of this effort is space and planetary exploration, the hope is that the resulting capabilities will be equally valuable for a spectrum of defense, energy and industrial applications. One of the challenges to be faced for this particular application of mobile manipulation technologies is that the cost for the humanoid torso is relatively high at the present time. However, for applications such as nuclear power plants as well as high-criticality defense-related missions such as counter-terrorism operations, the ability to employ a human surrogate that can use a wide variety of human tools is worth the cost.

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