Currently, we have a set of 6 main projects, each consisting of a number of sub-projects where students collaborate towards the corresponding main goal of the individual project. Despite the fact that from an outsiders point of view, each project might be perceived as an independent and separate project, all of our projects compromise a single research program tackling the following three main research goals within the unmanned vehicles area (see our "About Us" page): 1) High-speed, 2) Full autonomy, and 3) Operation in challenging/confined spaces.
The paragraphs below provide a general description of each of our current projects. If you would like to learn more about the specific activities of each project please contact our principal investigator and group leader Dr. Alex Ramirez-Serrano directly.
If you interested in becoming a graduate student member of our R&D lab and work in one of our projects please check our "Announcements" (open positions) webpage.
ROBOTS ARE COMING TO THE RESCUE!
PROJECT 1: Highly-maneuverable UVS for obstructed environments.
The overall goal of this project is the development of highly maneuverable autonomous vehicles for deployment in obstructed spaces. We focus on underwater and UAV systems capable of high-speed navigation in helicopter/submarine-impenetrable environments.
We are developing improved designs, control, and navigation technologies for aerial/underwater surveillance & defense to meet modern threats as well as current civilian, police, and fire department needs. Our work includes patrol and urban search & rescue (USAR) operations with scalable highly maneuverable Unmanned Vehicles (UVS). The capabilities that we are developing will enable safe and autonomous navigation in highly obstructed GPS-denied environments such as inside collapsed buildings, mining operations, and urban canyons.
PROJECT 2: Transitional unmanned aerial manipulators.
The evolution in the missions’ complexity of both military aircraft and UAVs and the increase in civilian air-traffic, with limited runways, have led to the need to develop new aircraft configurations called Transitional Aircraft (TA). The goal of this project is to combine and take advantage of both the characteristics of fixed-wing aircraft, like high-speed, range and endurance, and of rotary-wing aircraft or rotorcraft such as hovering, low-speed flight, and Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL). For this, we are developing mathematical formulations and methodologies necessary for the design optimization of stable tiltrotor aircraft to enable them to effectively transition from VTOL to fixed-wing flight mode. The specific goals include enhanced aircraft design, reducing transition time, enhance stable transition, and minimize dead weight for any specific flight mode while enabling close to optimal control flight via new aircraft designs.
In coordination with PROJECT # 1, we are also adding robot manipulators to these aircraft to extend their capabilities enabling them to interact with their environment (e.g., move debris, collect samples, perform maintenance & repair operations, etc.)
PROJECT 3: Design & control of hybrid robots for USAR operations.
The need for the use of robotics in Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) and their deployment in confined spaces (e.g., mines, construction sites, collapsed buildings) is growing steadily. First USAR robots were adapted from robots developed to perform specific tasks such as duct inspection and bomb disposal that have proved useful for exploring voids within damaged infrastructure deemed too dangerous or too small for either canine or human entry.
Despite years of progress, the core design of robots currently in use for USAR purposes has deviated little, favoring perception/control development and optimization of basic mechanical robotic systems to improve their performance instead of on developing enhanced robotic tools capable of completing missions that current robots cannot.
New robot designs, control, sensing, and navigation methodologies are needed to fully realize USAR robots and their deployment in fragile, complex, chaotic, and hazardous confined spaces.
This project consists of the design and autonomous control of multi-locomotion and reconfigurable robots having advanced and broader range of capabilities when compared to traditional legged, ground rovers, and aerial systems (drones).
This project uses a new robot concept design with has unique multi-locomotion capabilities which enable it to locomote in different styles including bipedal and quadrupedal walking, brachiation, climbing (e.g., ladders rock walls), rolling (like tracked vehicles) among others. We refer to such robot as hybrid robots. The idea behind such robots is to enhance the versatility of robots working inside real confined spaces such as those found inside collapsed buildings, underground sewer systems, industrial facilities, caves / tunnels, and so on.
To realize effective locomotion we consider the problems associated with kinematics, and dynamics to improve stability, energy consumption, velocity, and maneuverability having the aim to solve problems related to locomotion transition to inter-connect different (basic) types of locomotion into a unified locomotion architecture that would enable robots to adapt to the perceived environment by selecting the best (no necessary optimal) locomotion style for given terrain / space situation.
The overall goal is to fully realize hybrid robots by developing the required enabling mechanisms such as advanced locomotion techniques and robot self-adaptation to its surrounding in an autonomous fashion.
Our goal is to develop robots with the ability to climb over obstacles many times the height of the robot, ascend vertical shafts without the assistance of a tether and traverse rough and near vertical terrain among other aspects to improve the robots' ability to successfully assist in the three phases of a disaster response (i.e., Sizeup, Search & Rescue).
The objective is for hybrid robots to autonomously select the locomotion mechanism to use and the corresponding locomotion characteristics (e.g., walking gait style, navigation speed) according to the environmental conditions and the detected structures present in the environment (e.g., ladders, stairs, rubble).
PROJECT 4: High-speed control of humanoids for humanitarian aid (Check the project's web page).
Driven by the end goal of developing enhanced humanoids for both pediatric care as well as humanitarian aid purposes (e.g., USAR operations) this project is undertaking the problem of developing game-changer humanoid robot control and human-robot interaction mechanisms.
Biological walking systems can adaptively use their interlimb (legs, arms & hands) coordination for locomotion to deal with different situations. Neurophysiological studies have revealed that adaptive coordination emerges from dynamical interactions of neural activities, plasticity, musculoskeletal systems, and the environment. Achieving this on legged robots remains a grand challenge.
Driven by the end goal of developing faster humanoid robots for efficient response in humanitarian aid operations, such as search & rescue victims from collapsed infrastructure, we are developing bio-inspired knowledge and control mechanisms for legged robots to enable adaptive interlimb coordination for enhanced speed and stability. Our work targets multi-contact humanoid speed/environment-dependent adaptation, and body/task-dependent adaptation to enable humanoids and other walking machines effectively move within cluttered structured/unstructured spaces. This is being achieved using the full robot's available resources (e.g., hands, arms, and legs) and their motion characteristics (kinematics/dynamics) to maximize the robot’s adaptability to the given environment and its stability in all phases of its walking, crawling, climbing, running, jumping, etc. locomotion possibilities.
In contrast to PROJECT # 3, here the focus is on humanoid robots having the capability to move in similar ways to humans and use human-centered tools (e.g. power tools, screwdrivers) if and when needed to accomplish the given mission (e.g., rescue a victim trapped inside a collapsed infrastructure).
PROJECT 5: High-speed UGV navigation in unknown terrains.
In this project, the goal is to develop perception and control algorithms to enable ground unmanned vehicles (UGVs) to autonomously traverse static and dynamic heterogeneous unknown terrains at high speeds. The goal is to enable robots to move and navigate faster than vehicles operated by humans while simultaneously transition between different terrains and environmental conditions effortlessly and without damage to the vehicle.
Current robots are typically designed to operate in a given terrain or set of conditions (e.g., indoor or outdoor, roads or off-road, day or night, etc.) and cannot transition between different environments or operate in a different set of conditions to what they were designed for without decreasing their originally intended capabilities. Our goal is to develop architectures to enable UGVs to move between different terrains or environments without reducing their capabilities during the terrain transition phase at a high speed while maintaining the integrity of the vehicle.
PROJECT 6: In-hand robotic manipulation.
The limited dexterity that existing hand prostheses provide to users contrasts with the manipulation abilities exhibited by state-of-the-art robot hands. In this project, we explore the potential use of underactuated hands in the development of ground and aerial mobile manipulators and protheses hand replacements having in-hand manipulation capabilities not available today.
The project is developing mathematical frameworks to analyze the ability of underactuated hands to manipulate objects in-hand and use such information to design and manufacture improved robot hands for prostheses, humanoids, and unmanned vehicle manipulators use. Our current framework comprises three parts:
A methodology to model underactuated hands during the execution of in-hand manipulation maneuvers,
Mathematical tools to quantify the in-hand manipulation ability of a given underactuated hand, and.
Design and manufacture of highly maneuverable, easy to use and control robot hands with in-hand manipulation capabilities.
With these tools, we are developing high-speed multi-fingered robot hand architectures capable of handling and manipulating a priori unknown objects of diverse geometry and weight at any orientation.
The hands developed thus far have been designed to manipulate objects of different geometries at low and high-speeds, and diverse degrees of fragility. Based on our current developments diverse manipulation strategies suitable for prosthetic and other applications have been proposed. The strategies are enabling robot hands to manipulate objects in-hand without any information of the object's geometry or physical properties.