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Remote Robotics for Unmanned Human Environments: SmartTouch Valkyrie Integration

Status: AWARD END DATE: 10/31/2020


The 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) hosted by the Department of Defense spurred numerous robotic innovations from engineering teams around the world. The goal of the DRC was to make society more resilient through the development of robotics that can engage in humanitarian work (e.g. rescue efforts, maintenance in harsh environments, disaster relief, etc.). The NASA R5, a.k.a., Valkyrie humanoid robot was a consequence of the DRC and the Valkyrie brought about advances especially in robotic manipulation and supervisory control technologies.

Through its unique combination of sensor arrays, locomotive capabilities and dexterous manipulators, the Valkyrie possessed multiple functions and is designed to operate in harsh or degraded human-engineered environments. One such demonstrated function was the ability to interact with construction, such as scaffolding. While the ability to assemble human made structures is crucial to the humanitarian objectives of the Valkyrie or any other similar robots, equally important is the ability to accurately inspect and maintain existing infrastructures.

Due to the difficulty of using conventional inspection tools via remotely controlled robotic manipulators, there is no easy way to know for certain that the structural work performed by the robot is viable (e.g. bolt may not be tightened adequately at a key connection). Recently, researchers at the University of Houston have developed a non-invasive SmartTouch inspection tool designed for use by subsea ROVs/AUVs to easily inspect connections with a simple touch.

With further work, the SmartTouch technology can be adapted for use in robots such as the Valkyrie with far reaching advantages in their mission to benefit society. Thus, this proposal briefly outlines the research that can make such an adaptation possible.

Overall, the goal of the proposed work is to integrate SmartTouch into the manipulators of the Valkyrie to enable one-touch inspection capabilities. The research will encompass the following tasks:

  • Sensor Design
  • Force Feedback Control
  • Comprehensive Testing at UH
  • Integration and Testing with a Valkyrie simulator at UH