While robots routinely perform complex assembly tasks in highly structured factory environments, it is challenging to apply completely autonomous robotic systems in less structured manipulation tasks, such as surgery and machine assembly/repair, due to the limitations of sensor data interpretation, task modeling and machine intelligence. A practical, yet effective, approach to accomplish these tasks is through human-robot collaboration, in which the human operator and the robot form a partnership and complement each other in performing a complex task. We recognize that humans excel at determining task goals and recognizing constraints, if given sufficient feedback about the interaction between the tool (e.g., end-effector of the robot) and the environment. Robots are precise, unaffected by fatigue and able to work in environments not suitable for humans. Our research hypothesis is that human-robot collaboration can be improved via a system architecture that facilitates the bidirectional flow of information and assistance between the human and robot. In particular, the system provides information via visual and force (haptics) feedback, thereby enabling the operator to provide information and assistance to the system by defining the task model, in terms of task goals and virtual fixture constraints, through an interactive, or immersive, augmented reality interface. This then allows the robot system to actively assist the operator, to enhance the execution time, quality and precision of the tasks. We validate our hypothesis by implementing this system architecture for two different robot control paradigms, cooperative (i.e., hands-on) and telerobotic control, in two different application domains, image-guided robotic neurosurgery and telerobotic satellite servicing under significant time delay.
Tian Xia received the B.S.E degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle, and enrolled in the Computer Science Ph.D. program at the Johns Hopkins University. He received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in 2008. His research interests include robotics, system integration, human-robot collaboration and the commercialization of robotics technologies. After graduation, he will be working as a staff robotics engineer on the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) project at the Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) in Pittsburgh.