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Dexterous ROV: effective dexterous ROV operations in presence of communication latencies.

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - DexROV (Dexterous ROV: effective dexterous ROV operations in presence of communication latencies.)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2018-08-31

Subsea interventions in the offshore industry, archaeology or geological surveys, are demanding and costly activities for which robotic solutions are often deployed in addition or in substitution to human divers. The operation of ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) nevertheless requires significant off-shore dedicated manpower to handle and operate the robotic platform and the supporting vessel. In order to reduce the footprint of operations, DexROV proposes to implement and evaluate novel operation paradigms with safer, more cost effective and time efficient ROV operations. As a keystone of the proposed approach, human support will in a large extent be delocalized within an onshore ROV control center, possibly at a large distance from the actual operations, relying on satellite communications. The proposed scheme also makes provision for advanced dexterous manipulation and semi-autonomous capabilities, leveraging human expertise when deemed useful. The outcomes of the project will be integrated and evaluated in a series of tests and evaluation campaigns, culminating with a realistic deep sea (1,300 meters) trial in the Mediterranean sea.

Main objectives and challenges include:

1. Undersea perception and modeling: Significant resources of the project are devoted to developing techniques for acquiring high quality 3D models in near real time.

2. Navigation and manipulation control: Advanced control schemes are required in DexROV to navigate the ROV platform and position its arms with sufficient precision, while compensating for perturbations (currents). Autonomous navigation (dynamic positioning), station keeping and manipulation abilities are necessary.

3. Deep water capable dexterous manipulators: DexROV will develop new deep water rated dexterous manipulator arms and effectors with near human hand like manipulation and grasping abilities.

4. Far distance teleoperation: DexROV aims to mitigate communication latency with a temporal decoupling between offshore ROV operations and onshore human operations supervision. This relies on advanced simulation technologies and machine learning tools that DexROV will purposely develop.

5. Haptic user interfaces: Human operators will be given the possibility to instruct the ROV operations through a double haptic exoskeleton arm and hand interface. In interaction with the simulation environment, performed manipulation actions will be interpreted in ROV compliant tasks, and achieved in a semi-autonomously manner by the ROV
In the first 18 months of DexROV, a number of essential activities have been carried out by the consortium - this included system requirements elicitation, development of supporting tools (simulation environment), dissemination channels, and starting the development of core technologies.

In the second period of DexROV (M19 to M36), the main focus of the project was on the development of all major components of the DexROV solution. This included the detailed design of all software components, the manufacturing, unitary assembly, integration and testing (AIT) of individual components, and the progressive integration of outcomes with partners in a preliminary setup in preparation to the first trials at sea (in June / July 2017).

As of M36, most DexROV subsystems were manufactured, assembled, and partially integrated. Over the last period of the project, partners focused their work on the system final integration and testing, prior to (1) the campaign scheduled in May (dry run / dry rehearsal) and then the final validation campaign in June.

The May 2018 dry run allowed to prepare and test the end to end chain of the DexROV setup, and to attempt basic manipulation actions on the target test panel. However a hardware failure occurred with one of the dexterous hand's finger, requiring some repair.

During the June 2018 campaign, the overall setup was deployed to demonstrate DexROV operations at sea. The preparation work required more time and efforts than anticipated, due to technical issues including current leaks in one of the skid's cables. In the last week of the trials, dexterous manipulation actions could be successfully carried out, focusing on valves turning operations. This could be achieved and repeated successfully several times over 2 days in the end of June. The extra effort required to address the unforeseen technical issues however did not leave enough time at the end of the campaign to deploy DexROV in deep sea, as was initially foreseen. Nevertheless the sea side setup of DexROV (skid, manipulators, etc) could successfully undergo pressure tests at 1,300 msw in a dedicated facility, validating its ability to operate in deep sea conditions.

Strong dissemination took place over the project duration, with over 50 peer reviewed conference papers and journal articles published. Strong exploitation was also achieved, with a demonstrator of DexROV being presented at Oceanology International in March 2018, reaching a large community of potential customers. A number of contacts were taken at this occasion. Noticeably, one patent was filed (by SpaceApps), a second one is under consideration by GT, and a trademark was registered by JACOBS.
"Two major results are expected with DexROV:

1. Reducing the crew size on the ROV support vessel: accommodating people offshore for the duration of operations requires facilities that take its share of space on the vessel, therefore contributing in the need for large vessels whose operations costs is high. DexROV will identify the most meaningful trade-offs in terms of required offshore vs. onshore crew support, overall operations efficiency, and overall operation cost, so that to substantially reduce the vessel crew, and where possible the vessel size. Through novel communication delays mitigation strategies, DexROV will make it possible to control safely and efficiently a ROV from a distant onshore location, through a satellite link. This will reduce the need for offshore presence of ROV operating crew and customers representatives.

2. Extending range interventions of ROVs: a number of underwater operations require professional divers due to the challenging nature of the tasks to be performed. The depth divers can work at is limited (100 meters deep is already considered challenging). Furthermore, complex maintenance tasks sometimes require dexterous capabilities that no commercial ROV can today properly accomplish. DexROV will develop advanced dexterous capabilities that will allow to perform complex manipulation tasks in shallow, deep and ultra deep water. This will lead to a reduction in shallow water activities requiring professional divers as well as enabling dexterous operations in deep and ultra deep waters where divers cannot operate. This will result in reduced preparation time and effort, less risks, and less costs.

The final validation campaign of DexROV (in June 2018) allowed to demonstrate the feasibility and relevance to supervise dexterous manipulation operations from a far distance control center, through a satellite communication link, despite the presence of communication latency. The full commercial potential of ""DexROV as a whole"" system continues being investigated by project partners and needs to be further confirmed, but the different components of DexROV also individually have a strong exploitation potential: this is advertised under the form of product sheets on the website of the project."