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Collaborative Aerial Robotic Workers

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AEROWORKS (Collaborative Aerial Robotic Workers)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-06-30

The application domain that inspired the AEROWORKS research and innovation activities is that of civil infrastructure services, and its detectable growing necessity for high automation, improved Quality of Services (QoS) and capital-saving maintenance cycles, while retaining –or maximizing– safety and reliability. In order to clearly define the research activities and technological developments, and confine them within focused and specific boundaries, the project consortium has gathered experts from academia, robotics innovation enterprises, as well as key end-users, and aims to provide solutions to the specific –yet wide and challenging– area of civil infrastructure (power generation and distribution, oil & gas, water supply etc.) inspection and maintenance operations.

In general Inspection, repair and maintenance works are complex operations, executed in several cycles and typically require time-consuming, costly and risky procedures, involving highly trained personnel who employ largely non-unified and non-repeatable methods. A variety of methods and approaches are adopted to address the challenges of infrastructure maintenance. Specialized personnel perform visual inspection, nondestructive testing and maintenance tasks using scaffolds, roping or even manned helicopters in order to obtain access to the sites of interest.

The AEROWORKS project introduces the concept of “Collaborative Aerial Robotic Workers”. The goal is to develop a team of collaborative aerial systems equipped with advanced environmental perception and 3D reconstruction, active aerial manipulation, intelligent task planning, and multi-agent collaboration capabilities. Such a team of Aerial Robotic Workers (ARWs) will be capable of autonomously inspecting infrastructure facilities and acting in order to execute a maintenance task by means of aerial manipulation, and exploiting multi-robot collaboration.

Furthermore, the project aims to investigate the emerging scientific challenges of decentralized multi-robot collaboration, path-planning, control for aerial collaborative manipulation, aerial manipulator design, autonomous localization, as well as cooperative environmental perception and reconstruction. Emphasizing on technological innovation, AEROWORKS aims to investigate an approach with very promising returns in infrastructure inspection, repair & maintenance, leading to big savings in costs, while maximizing personnel/asset safety. With such a potential impact, AEROWORKS is at the forefront of bringing Robotics to the basis necessary in real applications, where they can make a difference.
WP1 - Management

LTU is coordinating AEROWORKS and it is responsible for the tuning of all the activities within the project, the financial and progress status reporting as well as the coordination of the consortium meetings and handling the communication with the European Commission. Moreover, regarding the management, LTU has worked towards the early identification of potential issues and worked intensively for resolving them, while keeping the cooperation spirit and the working tempo in the project as high as possible.

WP2 – System Specifications

In this WP all the activities have been carried according to the DoA, while all the corresponding deliverables have been submitted as it was planned. This WP has been the base for all the developments of AEROWORKS since it contained all the specifications and the plans for the rest of the WPs. In this WP the initial and end-user specifications for the real life application of AEROWORKS and the corresponding concept of the ARW have been analyzed in an end-user approach in order to achieve the maximum impact.

WP3 – Dexterous Aerial Manipulation

To develop the concept of aerial robotic worker the manipulation system plays an important role for its effectiveness and overall performance. To this end, within T3.1 the project partners defined the specifications for the manipulation system derived from WP2 and the application scenarios. Additional technical and scientific requirements were highlighted from each partner through a questionnaire to further define the design constraints of the system. Consequently, multiple concepts have been proposed by the partners were the tree main have been completed and prototyped, by UT, LTU and ETH-ASL.
Task 3.2:
T3.2 started at M7 and focused on the testing of the manipulators by UT, LTU and ETH-ASL to understand the disturbances introduced to ARW from the operation of the manipulation system. During this period at first integration week the proposed systems were tested on bench and compared to get a better insight of their capabilities (weaknesses and strengths). Preliminary tests have also been done during flight operations to analyze their performance. Additionally, extensive simulations of the dynamic model (UAV and arm) were conducted to examine the interaction of the manipulator motion during a maneuver of the UAV.
Task 3.3:
This task started in M11. The project at this phase was focused on the design of end effectors capable for co-manipulation, as well as in the interaction of multiple agents through the forces-torques applied on their arms.

WP4 – Collaborative Perception, Mapping and Vision for Manipulation

Task 4.1:
The project focused on real-time visual-inertial navigation for single ARW. To this end, a new monocular visual-inertial odometry algorithm called ROVIO (Robust Visual Inertial Odometry) has been developed and demonstrated great performance and robustness for aerial robot applications.
Task 4.2:
In this task results on real-time dense scene reconstruction from a computationally constraint platform for inspection operations have been presented. Furthermore, initial work on developing a place recognition algorithm able to perform on scenarios with viewpoint changes has been conducted.
Task 4.3:
The collaborative pose estimation concept has been investigated with two agents flying to improve the accuracy in position and orientation of the manipulator for inspection and maintenance tasks.
Task 4.4:
Initial work on developing vision-based algorithms for manipulation. The preliminary work has been conducted by mounting a camera on a fixed base manipulator

WP5 – Aerial Robotic Workers Development and Control

Task 5.1:
The development of the aerial robot according to the specification of WP2 has been conducted. Navigation logic state machine and ROS user interface has been developed and thoroughly tested. Additionally, new electronics for enhanced control of the ARW have been developed.
Task 5.2:
The coupled model
AEROWORKS have created progress beyond the State of the art in all the corresponding technological WPs. In short the project has introduced the totally novel concept of Aerial Robotic Worker (ARW) equipped with 3 totally novel aerial manipulators. The UAV for this experimentations was the NEO, an AEROWORKS developed UAV. For controlling the UAV as well as the UAV and manipulator combined system, a set of novel control and estimation schemes have been developed. These schemes were considering not only the case of a single ARW but also the case of multiple ARWs interacting with the infrastructure or performing coverage tasks. For adding robustness to the ARWs novel algorithms for visual navigation and environmental perception have been produced and experimentally evaluated where applicable. These components of the project have been integrated in 2 integration meetings that lasted 1 week each and the project have created significant novel integration activities towards the inspection and interaction with an infrastructure. Furthermore, AEROWORKS have initiated the process of evaluation the ARWS in real life working conditions, towards the final selected demonstration scenarios, which are the inspection and interaction with a wind turbine and a combustion chamber.