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Collaborative Aerial Robotic Workers

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AEROWORKS (Collaborative Aerial Robotic Workers)

Reporting period: 2016-07-01 to 2017-12-31

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 was 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.
WP2–System Specifications was responsible for specifying all the activities carried in the DoA including the field demonstration trials.
WP3–Dexterous Aerial Manipulation has developed aerial manipulators for the ARWs in order to interact with the surrounding infrastructure and perform aerial maintenance.
WP4–Collaborative Perception, Mapping and Vision for Manipulation has developed algorithms for localizing the ARWs based on visual information, for the task of aerial inspection and maintenance.
WP5–Aerial Robotic Workers Development and Control has developed the common aerial platform for AEROWORKS. This platform was equiped with an aerial manipulator to create the ARWs.
WP6–Collaborative Planning and Control for Inspection and Aerial Manipulation has developed algorithms for enabling the collaborative infrastructure inspection for the ARW inspectors as well as the collaborative object manipulation for the ARW maintainers. WP6 also included UWB localization for the ARWs.
WP7–System Integration and Evaluation has extensively demonstrated AEROWORKS towards the final scenarios of combustion chamber and wind turbine inspection.
WP8–Dissemination, Promotion and Exploitation has promoted scientifically and technologically AEROWORKS in myltiple conferences, journals and workshops, while overall the project has created 1 spin off and prepared 1 non-profit organization and another spin off.
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. Furthermore, AEROWORKS have successfully demonstrated for the first time ever in the robotics community the concept of collaborative autonomous aerial inspection of infrastructure for the use case of wind turbines.