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  1. In remote applications that mandate human supervision, shared control can prove vital by establishing a harmonious balance between the high-level cognition of a user and the low-level autonomy of a robot. Though in practice, achieving this balance is a challenging endeavor that largely depends on whether the operator effectively interprets the underlying shared control. Inspired by recent works on using immersive technologies to expose the internal shared control, we develop a virtual reality system to visually guide human-in-the-loop manipulation. Our implementation of shared control teleoperation employs end effector manipulability polytopes, which are geometrical constructs that embed joint limit and environmental constraints. These constructs capture a holistic view of the constrained manipulator’s motion and can thus be visually represented as feedback for users on their operable space of movement. To assess the efficacy of our proposed approach, we consider a teleoperation task where users manipulate a screwdriver attached to a robotic arm’s end effector. A pilot study with prospective operators is first conducted to discern which graphical cues and virtual reality setup are most preferable. Feedback from this study informs the final design of our virtual reality system, which is subsequently evaluated in the actual screwdriver teleoperation experiment. Our experimental findingsmore »support the utility of using polytopes for shared control teleoperation, but hint at the need for longer-term studies to garner their full benefits as virtual guides.« less
  2. Nuclear energy will play a critical role in meeting clean energy targets worldwide. However, nuclear environments are dangerous for humans to operate in due to the presence of highly radioactive materials. Robots can help address this issue by allowing remote access to nuclear and other highly hazardous facilities under human supervision to perform inspection and maintenance tasks during normal operations, help with clean-up missions, and aid in decommissioning. This paper presents our research to help realize humanoid robots in supervisory roles in nuclear environments. Our research focuses on National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA’s) humanoid robot, Valkyrie, in the areas of constrained manipulation and motion planning, increasing stability using support contact, dynamic non-prehensile manipulation, locomotion on deformable terrains, and human-in-the-loop control interfaces.
  3. Extreme environments, such as search and rescue missions, defusing bombs, or exploring extraterrestrial planets, are unsafe environments for humans to be in. Robots enable humans to explore and interact in these environments through remote presence and teleoperation and virtual reality provides a medium to create immersive and easy-to-use teleoperation interfaces. However, current virtual reality interfaces are still very limited in their capabilities. In this work, we aim to advance robot teleoperation virtual reality interfaces by developing an environment reconstruction methodology capable of recognizing objects in a robot’s environment and rendering high fidelity models inside a virtual reality headset. We compare our proposed environment reconstruction method against traditional point cloud streaming by having operators plan waypoint trajectories to accomplish a pick-and-place task. Overall, our results show that users find our environment reconstruction method more usable and less cognitive work compared to raw point cloud streaming.
  4. There is a significant amount of synergy between virtual reality (VR) and the field of robotics. However, it has only been in approximately the past five years that commercial immersive VR devices have been available to developers. This new availability has led to a rapid increase in research using VR devices in the field of robotics, especially in the development of VR interfaces for operating robots. In this paper, we present a systematic review on VR interfaces for robot operation that utilize commercially available immersive VR devices. A total of 41 papers published between 2016–2020 were collected for review following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Papers are discussed and categorized into five categories: (1) Visualization, which focuses on displaying data or information to operators; (2) Robot Control and Planning, which focuses on connecting human input or movement to robot movement; (3) Interaction, which focuses on the development of new interaction techniques and/or identifying best interaction practices; (4) Usability, which focuses on user experiences of VR interfaces; and (5) Infrastructure, which focuses on system architectures or software to support connecting VR and robots for interface development. Additionally, we provide future directions to continue development inmore »VR interfaces for operating robots.« less
  5. Manipulation of deformable objects is a desired skill in making robots ubiquitous in manufacturing, service, healthcare, and security. Common deformable objects (e.g., wires, clothes, bed sheets, etc.) are significantly more difficult to model than rigid objects. In this research, we contribute to the model-based manipulation of linear flexible objects such as cables. We propose a 3D geometric model of the linear flexible object that is subject to gravity and a physical model with multiple links connected by revolute joints and identified model parameters. These models enable task automation in manipulating linear flexible objects both in simulation and real world. To bridge the gap between simulation and real world and build a close-to-reality simulation of flexible objects, we propose a new strategy called Simulation-to-Real-to-Simulation (Sim2Real2Sim). We demonstrate the feasibility of our approach by completing the Plug Task used in the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals both in simulation and real world, which involves unplugging a power cable from one socket and plugging it into another. Numerical experiments are implemented to validate our approach.