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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DexROV (Dexterous ROV: effective dexterous ROV operations in presence of communication latencies.)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-02-28

Subsea interventions in the oil & gas industry as well as in other domains such as archaeology or geological surveys are demanding and costly activities for which robotic solutions are often deployed in addition or in substitution to human divers – contributing to risks and costs cutting. 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, manned 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: Perceiving and modeling underwater structures and environment is a difficult duty. Dust floating in water tends to impair visual sensors, while the accuracy of acoustic perception solutions is limited. 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: Conventional underwater arms and grippers are usually designed for heavy duty activities, and are unable to perform tasks requiring high dexterity. 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: Operating a ROV from a far distance, through a satellite communication link, implies the presence of significant latency that prevents conventional teleoperation. DexROV mitigates this concern with a temporal decoupling between (1) offshore ROV operations and (2) 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 includes:
- the system requirements elicitation, the subsystems interfaces and architecture definition,
- the development of supporting tools (simulation environment) for partners to effectively integrate their respective contributions,
- establishing of the communication and dissemination channels (the project website in particular: have been worked out and released, so that to ensure a strong impact,
- development of core DexROV technologies: dexterous manipulators, underwater perception technologies, autonomous navigation and manipulation control, satellite communication link, cognitive engine, control center and force feedback interfaces...
- 1st integration and testing campaign, with collocation of staffs - simultaneously in Zaventem (control center) and Marseille (vessel and ROV).

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 phase of all software components (ROV control software, perception software, sat com software...)
- the manufacturing, unitary assembly unitary integration and unitary testing of most newly developed hardware components (manipulators, robotic hands, perception system, exoskeleton interface...)
- the progressive integration of these outcomes, in preparation to major test campaigns (in particular the second campaign / first trials at sea in June and July 2017).
- the preparation for, and attendance to impacting outreach events (BTS, Oceanology International...)
- the release of impactful outreach material, e.g. Euronews documentary

As of M36, most DexROV subsystems are now manufactured, assembled, and partially integrated. Following this, partners will focusing their work on the system final integration, prior to campaigns scheduled in May (dry run / dry rehearsal) and in June (final campaign).
Two major results are expected with DexROV:

1. Reducing the crew size on the ROV support vessel, and the support vessel size: 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 (time required to perform the operations, quality of work done), and overall operation cost, so that to substantially reduce the vessel crew, and where possible the vessel size. Through novel communication delays mitigation strategies (Objective 1), DexROV will make it possible to control safely and efficiently (Objective 3, Objective 2) 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 the range of interventions for which ROV can be exploited: a number of underwater operations still require professional divers due to the challenging nature of the tasks to be performed. The depth divers can work at is limited (one hundred 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 (Objective 4) that will allow to perform such 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 (offshore divers wages, insurance, transport, accommodation facilities, medical facilities and support, etc.).
DexROV concept