A little more direction?

  • In meeting with Dr. Kuber, I brought up something that I’ve been thinking about since the weekend. The interface works, provably so. The pilot study shows that it can be used for (a) training and (b) “useful” work. If the goal is to produce “blue collar telecommuting”, then the question becomes, how do we actually achieve that? A dumb master-slave system makes very little sense for a few reasons:
    • Time lag. It may not be possible to always get a fast enough response loop to make haptics work well
    • Machine intelligence. With robots coming online like Baxter, there is certainly some level of autonomy that the on-site robot can perform. So, what’s a good human-robot synergy?
  • I’m thinking that a hybrid virtual/physical interface might be interesting.
    • The robotic workcell is constantly scanned and digitized by cameras. The data is then turned into models of the items that the robot is to work with.
    • These items are rendered locally to the operator, who manipulates the virtual objects using tight-loop haptics, 3D graphics, etc. Since (often?) the space is well known, the objects can be rendered from a library of CAD-correct parts.
    • The operator manipulates the virtual objects. The robot follows the “path” laid down by the operator. The position and behavior of the actual robot is represented in some way (ghost image, warning bar, etc). This is known as Mediated Teleoperation, and described nicely in this paper.
    • The novel part, at least as far as I can determine at this point is using mediated telepresence to train a robot in a task:
      • The operator can instruct the robot to learn some or all of a particular procedure. This probably entails setting entry, exit, and error conditions for tasks, which the operator is able to create on the local workstation.
      • It is reasonable to expect that in many cases, this sort of work will be a mix of manual control and automated behavior. For example, placing of a part may be manual, but screwing a bolt into place to a particular torque could be entirely automatic. If a robot’s behavior is made  fully autonomous, the operator needs simply to monitor the system for errors or non-optimal behavior. At that point, the operator could engage another robot and repeat the above process.
      • User interfaces that inform the operator when the robot is coming out of autonomous modes in a seamless way need to be explored.
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