Haptic communication for remote mobile and manipulator robot operations in hazardous environments
Nuclear decommissioning involves the use of remotely deployed mobile vehicles and manipulators controlled via teleoperation systems. Manipulators are used for tooling and sorting tasks, and mobile vehicles are used to locate a manipulator near to the area that it is to be operated upon and also to carry a camera into a remote area for monitoring and assessment purposes. Teleoperations in hazardous environments are often hampered by a lack of visual information. Direct line of sight is often only available through small, thick windows, which often become discoloured and less transparent over time. Ideal camera locations are generally not possible, which can lead to areas of the cell not being visible, or at least difficult to see. Damage to the mobile, manipulator, tool or environment can be very expensive and dangerous. Despite the advances in the recent years of autonomous systems, the nuclear industry prefers generally to ensure that there is a human in the loop. This is due to the safety critical nature of the industry. Haptic interfaces provide a means of allowing an operator to control aspects of a task that would be difficult or impossible to control with impoverished visual feedback alone. Manipulator endeffector force control and mobile vehicle collision avoidance are examples of such tasks. Haptic communication has been integrated with both a Schilling Titan II manipulator teleoperation system and Cybermotion K2A mobile vehicle teleoperation system. The manipulator research was carried out using a real manipulator whereas the mobile research was carried out in simulation. Novel haptic communication generation algorithms have been developed. Experiments have been conducted using both the mobile and the manipulator to assess the performance gains offered by haptic communication. The results of the mobile vehicle experiments show that haptic feedback offered performance improvements in systems where the operator is solely responsible for control of the vehicle. However in systems where the operator is assisted by semi autonomous behaviour that can perform obstacle avoidance, the advantages of haptic feedback were more subtle. The results from the manipulator experiments served to support the results from the mobile vehicle experiments since they also show that haptic feedback does not always improve operator performance. Instead, performance gains rely heavily on the nature of the task, other system feedback channels and operator assistance features. The tasks performed with the manipulator were peg insertion, grinding and drilling.