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There is a need for technology that can extend the reach and enhance the safety of teams that are tasked with finding, characterizing, and remediating unexploded ordnance (UXO) underwater. This project sought to develop co-robotic (human operator in partnership with a robot) removal of underwater UXO, which leverages human perceptive capability and maximizes the benefit and performance of the human operator. This is done through use of robotic manipulators, real-time non-contact sensors (optical and/or sonar), automatic control methods, and haptic rendering to provide the operator with sense of touch feedback.
The proof-of-concept objective of this SERDP Exploratory Development (SEED) project was to demonstrate that telerobotic control of underwater robot tools for grasping objects can be accomplished, using haptic feedback. The metrics and criteria for success include:
The approach involves use of underwater sensors, which are used to generate real-time data that can be processed by recently developed haptic rendering algorithms, so as to provide a human operator with a ‘sense of touch’ of objects seen by the sensor. Combined with a tele-operated robotic device, this allows human directed robotic removal of ordnance from lake, river, or sea bottoms. The methodology is somewhat modified from what was originally proposed because the project team was able to take advantage of and leverage significant external resources in the project.
The proof-of-concept system consists of the following subsystems:
All of the proof-of-concept objectives were successfully met in this SEED project. The combined system was tested in air and underwater, and it performed all desired tasks well. The operator could successfully grasp and lift objects (including an inert mortar shell), avoiding specified contact locations. In addition, this project demonstrated the feasibility of sonar-based haptics.
The overall conclusions for this proof-of-concept research are as follows:
Together, these results establish the feasibility of the haptically-enabled co-robotic approach to underwater munitions remediation. Specifically: (1) the functionality of the proposed underwater video-plus-depth camera has been demonstrated; and (2) the performance of haptic rendering and virtual fixtures has been demonstrated.
By demonstrating the effectiveness of these tools for use underwater, and studying the feasibility of integration with a number of platform options, this project has shown that this technology has great potential to impact the cost and effectiveness of UXO remediation operations. This work will assist the Department of Defense in mitigation of underwater munitions in a safe and cost-effective manner. In addition, this SEED project has led to the development of algorithms, software, and systems for enhanced telerobotics in underwater conditions. These are applicable for a wide variety of human-operator controlled robots and ROVs for diverse military, commercial, and scientific underwater activities.