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An history of bilateral teleoperation

In case you're not familiar with the concept of bilateral teleoperation, this is just a way to remotely control robots. Two researchers have written a technical paper which covers more than 50 years of history of bilateral teleoperation. This paper has just received the 'Automatica Best Paper' in the survey/tutorial category. The award will be given at the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) Triennial World Congress held in Seoul, South Korea (July 6-11, 2008). But read more...
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Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

In case you're not familiar with the concept of bilateral teleoperation, this is just a way to remotely control robots. Two researchers have written a technical paper which covers more than 50 years of history of bilateral teleoperation. This paper has just received the 'Automatica Best Paper' in the survey/tutorial category. The award will be given at the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) Triennial World Congress held in Seoul, South Korea (July 6-11, 2008). But read more...

Bilateral teleoperation

You can see above a diagram illustrating the concept of bilateral teleoperation (Credit: Peter Hokayem and Mark Spong) "The prefix tele from Greek origin means at a distance and teleoperation naturally indicates operating at a distance. Thus teleoperation extends the human capability to manipulating objects remotely by providing the operator with similar conditions as those at the remote location. This is achieved via installing a similar manipulator or joystick, called the master, at the human’s end to the slave which is performing the actual task. In a general setting, the human imposes a force upon the master manipulator which in turn results in a displacement that is transmitted to the slave that mimics that movement."

This research work was done in 2006 by Mark Spong, incoming dean of the UT Dallas Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, and his former Ph.D. student, Peter Hokayem, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Würzburg, Germany. Back in 2006, both were members of the Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The two researchers will receive their award at the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) Triennial World Congress (IFAC'08) which is held in Seoul, South Korea (July 6-11, 2008).

Let's go back to the UT Dallas news release for some more details. "The paper explains that the fine motor skills many take for granted are enormously complex maneuvers for robots, where continuous, uninterrupted feedback between the machine and its operator are vital. A human may not think about how firmly he or she should grasp a crystal vase of flowers, but a robot doing a host of non-repetitive things needs instructions and feedback to flow back and forth constantly."

And here is second excerpt. "The implications for improving bilateral teleoperation are limited only by imagination and, in some cases, human comfort level. For example, while it is easy to see the value in using robots to weld underwater, build a manned space station on the moon and disable bombs, what about undergoing heart surgery by robotic physician? That may seem far-fetched, but as the give-and-take of data between robots and robot operators improves, so does the vast potential of bilateral teleoperation."

Their paper was published by Automatica under the title "Bilateral Teleoperation: An Historical Survey" (Volume 42, Issue 12, Pages 2035-2057, December 2006). Here is the link to the abstract. "This survey addresses the subject of bilateral teleoperation, a research stream with more than 50 years of history and one that continues to be a fertile ground for theoretical exploration and many applications. We focus on the control theoretic approaches that have been developed to address inherent control problems such as delays and information loss. Exposure to several concurrent applications is provided, and possible future trends are outlined."

The full paper is available online as a PDF file (35 pages, 601 KB). The above figure and its caption were extracted from this document.

Let's look briefly at the conclusions of this document. Here is what wrote the researchers about space exploration. "The eventual return of humans to the moon as a first step towards colonization of Mars and beyond will require that robots and humans work closely together. For example, in order to construct a base station on the moon it is not feasible to send a large human construction crew, nor is it likely that fully autonomous robots would be capable of completing such a task in the near future. Teleoperation thus represents the most likely scenario for large scale construction projects in earth orbit or on the moon. Moreover, the scalability from one-to-one master-slave architecture to many-to-many architecture is yet to come over the next few decades and is the subject of extensive current research."

And here is what the team concluded about medical applications. "Telemedicine is an area that requires great care in teleoperation since mistakes are life threatening; moreover, delays and loss of information could be fatal. The basic results in this area we have presented in this paper can be further expanded along the lines of remote surgery and possibly remote examination (palpation, etc.). First responders at an accident scene, fire, or other disaster would benefit from having robotic devices that can communicate wirelessly, carry video, audio, and tactile sensors, and have manipulation capability to rescue, examine, or administer first aid to victims. Multiple such devices could be used within large buildings and would have to communicate among themselves and with a human operator."

Sources: UT Dallas News, July 8, 2008; and various websites

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