Advanced robots should be used for difficult, dirty, dangerous and dull tasks, rather than humans. At present, the capabilities of these systems are hindered by their ability to control complex robotic functions such as performing a range of grasping tasks with tools that requires coordinating multiple end-effectors at the same time. To overcome these limitations, UCL will work with UK SMEs Shadow Robot Company, OC Robotics and Cambrian Intelligence to develop and test the feasibility of a novel semi-autonomous teleoperation system (SAT) to demonstrate new paradigm-shifting approaches. By leveraging unique testbed facilities at UCL HereEast for teleoperation technologies, the goal of the project is to replace tedious low level control operations with higher level tasks; allowing the operator to concentrate on the overall task to be conducted, rather than needing to micromanage a robot system through low-level operations like maintaining gripper contact with objects, or path planning through cluttered spaces. This system is expected to significantly ease the cognitive burden on the operator, making difficult tasks easier and all tasks more reliable and robust, whilst at the same time enabling operators to need less training in "using the machine", and speeding up task performance. Across industries using teleoperation in regular use, such as nuclear operations, fusion engineering, and subsea maintenance and inspection we expect semi-autonomous teleoperation technologies to produce a step-change in task productivity and remote decision making with concomitant economic impact.
The project builds on key UK activities in snake-arm robots, dexterous hands, teleoperation platforms, connectivity and research environments to deliver a step-change in capability. Within this project, the primary objective for the UCL team is to support the development, performance testing, analysis and dissemination of results of the proposed demonstrator systems. Leveraging a UCL EPSRC capital award >£2.4M in "Robotic Teleoperation for Multiple Scales: Enabling Exploration, Manipulation and Assembly Tasks in New Worlds Beyond Human Capabilities" (EP/K005030/1), we will provide the SME partners access to relevant robotic equipment and teleoperation platforms to develop a series of SAT systems. We will also exploit our existing background research to define suitable benchmarks to assist the measurement of end-user and technical performance of the system. These activities will include:
1) Providing space to mock-up different testing environments for demonstration
2) Help define suitable benchmarking frameworks to analyse the technical feasibility of the developed SAT systems such as stability, transparency and robustness measures
3) Work with SME partners to establish end user requirements and optimise developed demonstrator to potential first customer needs
4) Give access to UCL's existing industrial collaboration network to help broker follow on investment
5) Enhance international dissemination activities by presenting usability and performance results at leading events such as ICRA and IROS, in addition to industry focused forums
For UCL, this project will provide essential knowledge to help develop future sensors, actuators and components for creating the next generation of robotic technologies.