Cognitive Mobile Systems

Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE

© Fraunhofer FKIE

Functioning, where it is too dangerous for People

Whether the situation requires poisonous substances to be detected or removed from industrial plants or a temporary communications network to be built in a disaster zone, mobile robots can save people from being exposed to extreme danger. However, the demands on the control systems required for such robots are very exacting. A single robot is already equipped with a wide range of sensors and can carry out movements that must all be monitored and controlled, a task which can quickly overwhelm even trained remote operators. If several robots are employed in the loop, the burden on the operator increases even more so as they monitor the interaction of all of the equipment being used.

Our “Cognitive Mobile Systems” department is laying important foundations for the development of such complex multi-robot systems which can be handled more easily and more intuitively. The group is also developing software for intelligent support functions for controlling the robots and planning tools to improve the coordination of multi-robot systems.

Approach

Our research into “Human-Multi-robot systems for defense and security related missions” meets the challenges outlined above on two levels:

(1) Assistance Functions for Controlling Robots: The operator can be relieved of many cognitively demanding control tasks by means of intelligent software. For this purpose we develop algorithms that continuously monitor the robots’ sensor data and consolidate it into intuitively understandable situational information. Current results from our research into autonomous robots increasingly enable us to utilize this information for carrying out more complex motion and manipulation tasks automatically.

The assistance functions provide the user with an understandable representation of the environment as perceived by the robot system as well as its intended actions. Consequently, a high-level system control emerges from the development which is altogether more user-friendly.

(2) Coordinated Use of Multi-Robot Systems: Many tasks require the coordinated use of several mobile robot systems at the same time, such as for the deployment of mobile manipulators in pairs when neutralizing explosives or the application of an entire team of unmanned vehicles for constructing a communication network in a disaster zone. The additional time and effort required for coordination causes the burden of work on a multi-robot system to rise disproportionately.

We develop software-based coordination techniques which allow us to reduce this additional effort considerably. Therefore, planning algorithms are used to propose an efficient and coordinated course of action of the group of robots. During routine tasks the planning software can even take over the full control of the individual robot systems.

At both levels we continually integrate promising technical innovations into our concepts and methods and evaluate them using prototypical application systems. This is carried out in close collaboration with our clients who include the Bundeswehr and other organizations entrusted with security assignments.

Areas of Expertise

We have carried out research into unmanned mobile systems on behalf of the German Ministry of Defense for over twenty years. Central to this research is the development of innovative tools for Human-Multi-robot interaction and cooperation. Our success in this area is based on our in-depth knowledge of the latest developments in autonomous robotics research plus our experience of communications between mobile systems and the ergonomic design of the control stations required for this type of system.

The tools we develop are evaluated by means of prototype applications.

The two main areas of emphasis are:

Multi-robot systems for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance (ISR) and

CBRNE robots, i.e. robots for detecting and investigating chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats.

These two areas of research are the core expertise of our research group. All our projects are undertaken in close collaboration with the client through consistently pursuing the Proof-of-Concept strategy outlined above.

Application

The current demands on peacemaking and peacekeeping operations along with combating terror are also determining factors in military robotics research. Unmanned robot systems capable of protecting soldiers and expanding the range of tasks they can carry out whilst on the ground in high-risk operations are an essential military requirement. An example would be the construction of sensor and communication networks within the range of the enemy which are essential to Network Enabled Capabilities (NEC). This is typical of the type of task which can be transferred to multi-robot systems. In this context NEC means the responsible deployment of the human armed forces based upon swiftly providing uniform tactical information by using unmanned systems. Our solutions also have an increasing number of civilian applications. Unmanned systems can, for example, play a major part in safeguarding critical infrastructures against terrorist attacks. They also have important commercial uses such as inspecting industrial facilities and detecting leaks in chemical plants. In addition to our work directly relating to NEC we have also developed prototype applications for ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and CBRNE (detection of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive risks).

Projects

ARMINIUS – Assistance Functions for Partial Autonomy in mobile unmanned Systems

Unmanned robot systems capable of protecting soldiers and expanding the range of tasks they can carry out whilst on the ground in high-risk operations are an essential military requirement. In order to make mobile robots easier to operate for soldiers, the ARMINIUS project is developing intelligent assistance functions which can perform some of the control tasks autonomously, and so lessen the workload on the operator. [more]

VARUS – Networking Strategies and Application Scenarios for unmanned Systems

Essential to the Network Enabled Capabilities are the communication and sensor networks which make it possible to quickly generate a tactical picture of the situation. Soldiers can be in danger when constructing networks within the effective range of the enemy so, in order to protect them, it is preferable to use unmanned systems. [more]

ManiPuR – Modular Manipulator Vehicle / CBRNE Reconnaissance Robots

The Bundeswehr and all other authorities with responsibility for security assignments, share the important responsibility of safeguarding against CBRNE risks (detection of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive risks). The release of chemicals or radioactive substances during major catastrophes represents a serious threat to the military as well as to the civilian population. However, automation and the deployment of robots make it possible to offer them a high level of protection. [more]

Robot Driver – Experimental Implementation of an automated Military Transport System

In light of the increasing asymmetrical nature of warfare and the difficult geographical and climatic conditions found in many potential areas of operation we recognized that “convoy robots” represent an important gap in capabilities. The aim of the project is to develop a proposal for an “Automated Military Transport System” () which can then be progressed to an experimental stage. [more]

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