In certain work environments, e.g., nuclear, chemical, disaster response, construction/demolition, submarine, there can be extreme risks to the occupational safety and health (OSH) of the workers. Hazards may be present in the form of toxicity, radiation, dangers to potential explosions, exposures to chemicals, etc., where the magnitudes reach a point that human exposure would either represent a direct threat to life or long-term health consequences.
The pie-chart on the right shows the distribution of the OSH risk for each industrial sector. As can be seen, the “Nuclear” sector presents the most risk to the safety of workers. The sectors that follow closely behind are “Oil and Gas”, “Energy”, “Manufacturing”, “Metallurgy”, and “Government Services (Disaster Response)”. These can be considered as the top-6 “vulnerable” sectors.
Robotics can be an obvious solution to mitigate this human risk. Robots not only physically perform most of the tasks, but also, given the cognitive ability, can problem-solve in complex environments. Through substitution, i.e., removing the worker from the unsafe area, an advanced, intelligent system linked to dexterous mobile platforms could form a solution to reduce or eliminate exposure to hazards.
Industrial sector-wise Distribution of Probability for Exposure to Risk
(hover mouse to show sector)
The TELEOPERAZIONE project, in collaboration with INAIL (“Istituto Nazionale per l'Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro” - National Institute for Insurance against Workplace Injuries, Italy) CUP J32F17000950005, is aimed at the development of a novel, collaborative teleoperation hardware and software system dedicated to operating in certain hazard-prone industries, reducing the risks to the workers’ safety and well-being. It will utilize, develop, and integrate advanced technologies in tele-locomotion, tele-manipulation, and human-machine interaction.
The project seeks to build on the existing technological expertise and capabilities at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) acquired through the successful, and continuing, implementation of high-technology projects in this field. The technical know-how from these earlier projects, including HyQ, WearHap, μRALP, and Walk-Man, shall contribute to the progress of the project towards an innovative and unique teleoperation system.
The project has established a close working relationship with the Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco (VV.F.) in Genova, Italy. VV.F. have been identified as the primary end-users for the trials and testing of the TELEOPERAZIONE system. They have helped identify challenge scenarios relevant to VV.F. both in terms of their practicality and the advantages offered through an advanced robotic system such as the TELEOPERAZIONE system. The tasks are inspired by the actual activities (both manipulation and navigation) that VV.F. personnel undertake in the normal course of their response to emergencies. The project shall undertake field validation trials of the developed subsystems, with a final demonstration of the prototype in close collaboration with VV.F.
The project is built on FOUR key technologies, divided into TWO overall subsystems, as described below. These represent the objectives of the project and lead to the demonstration of a proof-of-concept system. The project involves the three robotics research lines within IIT:
- Advanced Robotics (ADVR)
- Dynamic Legged Systems (DLS)
- Humanoids and Human Centered Mechatronics (HHCM)
The simultaneous research and exploitation possibilities in the technologies drive the contributions in the project.
SUBSYSTEM 1: FIELD robot
Locomotion, Grasping, and Manipulation
A four-legged, hydraulically-driven robot for locomotion, building on the customization and refinement of existing platforms for operation in the identified industrial / hazardous test environment.
A novel, multiple degrees-of-freedom manipulator arm for grasping and manipulation, capable of attaching task-dedicated end-effectors, and with sufficient reach and dexterity, to be mounted on top of the legged locomotion robot.
SUBSYSTEM 2: MASTER station
Haptic Teleoperation and Intuitive Visualization
The HEXOTRAC hand exoskeleton is a single-arm master device for teleoperation and haptic feedback. A new 6 degrees-of-freedom, force-feedback arm, will be integrated with HEXOTRAC for grounded haptic feedback to the operator.
Novel 3D user interaction interfaces for intuitive visualization, with a joystick tele-navigation system, integrated augmented reality for assistance, and virtual reality environments for an immersive interaction experience.
The Overall Architecture
The image shows the overall architecture of the TELEOPERAZIONE concept, with the various subsystems. As is evident, the solid arrows indicate the inter-connections. The two-sided arrows indicate bi-directional communication and control.