Robust Legged Locomotion for Autonomous Mobility in Challenging Environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Engineering Science

Abstract

Robots with legs and arms are likely replace most manual labour, especially in environments that are dangerous for humans, and revolutionize multiple services domains in the long-term.

One of the main advantages of legged robots is that they can discretely make and break contact with the environment, in contrast to wheeled or tracked systems that require continuous contact with the ground. This way, robots with legs can modify their area of support from step to step, a requirement when negotiating challenging terrain and environments primarily built for humans. Also, the use of legs decouples the body from the robot's foot-print. This allows for wide areas of support with only small footprints, a major advantage when navigating passages, tight spaces, cluttered environments, etc. The high articulation of legged systems also allows them to manipulate their center of mass, so that the system's dynamics can be exploited for the task at hand, and to dynamically reconfigure their workspace for the benefit of their payload, i.e., increase a manipulator arm's reach or position a sensor suite in a preferred pose.

The autonomous locomotion framework that we will develop will enable current technology to be used in industrial scenarios, especially in hazardous environments that are primarily built for humans. Examples of such places are nuclear power plants, factories, oil & gas facilities, etc., where typically industrial stairs are used and a system will need to overcome various terrain difficulties, such as step over pipes, gaps, climb up/down stairs, manoeuvre through narrow passageways. Legged systems in such settings can have a large variety of roles; starting from inspection, automated monitoring of the condition of a facility; maintenance, periodic recurring tasks that need to be performed typically by a human, to intervention when an anomaly is detected.

Planned Impact

This project will develop algorithms for motion planning for robots with legs and will demonstrate them on a set of challenging trials in industrial environments, largely focusing on oil & gas facilities of our partner BP, and nuclear facilities mock-ups of our partner RACE---the UK Atomic Energy Authority's centre for Remote Applications in Challenging Environments. The result of the proposed work will enable multiple applications in real conditions. As such, it has direct impact on multiple service domains and therefore in society and economy.

Industrial Impact -- Legged platforms have disruptive potential for a range of service domains. Legged platforms can provide superior mobility that is crucial for delivering robotic technology in industrial environments that are primary build for humans. For example, tasks as facility inspection, regular maintenance and security in industrial environments such as oil & gas platforms or refineries, factories, nuclear facilities, and similar settings. The morphology of such facilities often makes the use of wheeled, tracked or flying platforms impractical. These are often hazardous environments, where human presence must be minimized, while regular inspection and maintenance is key for their optimal functioning. What is more, such infrastructure was built with a human form factor in mind so wheeled or tracked platforms are often impossible to use. Legged systems in such settings can have a large variety of roles; starting from inspection, automated monitoring of the condition of a facility; maintenance, periodic recurring tasks that need to be performed typically by a human, to intervention when an anomaly is detected.

Academic Impact -- The ubiquity of motion planning in mobile robots makes this work also relevant to wheeled and flying systems. First, other groups within and beyond ORI that work on mobile platforms can directly benefit from this work, while also all labs that work with such systems will be able to use our developed framework. Second, labs and researchers that study legged locomotion will be able to directly make use of the results of the proposed work.

Publications

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