Underwater operations (e.g. oil industry) are demanding and costly activities for which ROV based setups are often deployed in addition to deep divers – contributing to operations risks and costs cutting.
However, the operation of a ROV requires significant off-shore dedicated manpower – such a setup typically requires a crew consisting of: (1) an intendant, (2) an operator, and (3) a navigator. This is a baseline, and extra staffing is often provisioned. Furthermore, customers representatives often wish to be physically present at the offshore location in order to advise on, or to observe the course of the operations. Associated costs are high.
In order to reduce the burden of operations, DexROV will work out more cost effective and time efficient ROV operations, where manned support is in a large extent delocalized onshore (i.e. from a ROV control center), possibly at a large distance from the actual operations - thus with latencies in the communication. As a main strategy to mitigate them, DexROV will develop a real time simulation environment to accommodate operators’ requests on the onshore side with no delays. The simulated environment will exploit cm accuracy 3D models of the environment built online by the ROV, using data acquired with underwater sensors (3D sonar and vision based). A dedicated cognitive engine will analyse user’s control requests as done in the simulated environment, and will turn them into primitives that the ROV can execute autonomously in the real environment, despite the communication latencies.
Effective user interfaces will be developed for dexterous manipulation, including a double advanced arm and hand force feedback exoskeleton. The ROV will be equipped with a pair of new force sensing capable manipulators and dexterous end-effectors: they will be integrated within a modular skid.
The outcomes of the project will be integrated and evaluated in a series of tests and evaluation campaigns, culminating with a realistic offshore trial.
Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DexROV (Dexterous ROV: effective dexterous ROV operations in presence of communication latencies.)
Subsea interventions in the oil & gas industry as well as in other domains such as archaeology or geological surveys are demanding and costly activities for which robotic solutions are often deployed in addition or in substitution to human divers – contributing to risks and costs cutting. The operation of ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) nevertheless requires significant offshore dedicated manpower to handle and operate the robotic platform and the supporting vessel. In order to reduce the footprint of operations, DexROV proposes to implement and evaluate novel operation paradigms with safer, more cost effective and time efficient ROV operations. As a keystone of the proposed approach, manned support will in a large extent be delocalized within an onshore ROV control center, possibly at a large distance from the actual operations, relying on satellite communications. The proposed scheme also makes provision for advanced dexterous manipulation and semi-autonomous capabilities, leveraging human expertise when deemed useful. The outcomes of the project will be integrated and evaluated in a series of tests and evaluation campaigns, culminating with a realistic deep sea (1,300 meters) trial in the Mediterranean Sea.
Main objectives and challenges include:
1. Undersea perception and modelling: Perceiving and modelling underwater structures and environment is a difficult duty. Dust floating in water tends to impair visual sensors, while the accuracy of acoustic perception solutions is limited. Significant resources of the project are devoted to developing techniques for acquiring high quality 3D models in near real time.
2. Navigation and manipulation control: Advanced control schemes are required in DexROV to navigate the ROV platform and position its arms with sufficient precision, while compensating for perturbations (currents). Autonomous navigation (dynamic positioning), station keeping and manipulation abilities are necessary.
3. Deep water capable dexterous manipulators: Conventional underwater arms and grippers are usually designed for heavy duty activities and are unable to perform tasks requiring high dexterity. DexROV will develop new deep water rated dexterous manipulator arms and effectors with near human hand like manipulation and grasping abilities.
4. Far distance teleoperation: Operating a ROV from a far distance, through a satellite communication link, implies the presence of significant latency that prevents conventional teleoperation. DexROV mitigates this concern with a temporal decoupling between (1) offshore ROV operations and (2) onshore human operations supervision. This relies on advanced simulation technologies and machine learning tools that DexROV will purposely develop.
5. Haptic user interfaces: Human operators will be given the possibility to instruct the ROV operations through a double haptic exoskeleton arm and hand interface. In interaction with the simulation environment, performed manipulation actions will be interpreted in ROV compliant tasks, and achieved in a semi-autonomously manner by the ROV