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DEVELOPMENTS IN UNDERWATER ROBOTIC VEHICLES (URV) & PRECISION MANIPULATOR SYSTEMS

ABSTRACT
Recent developments in the field of underwater robotics and associated systems for precision underwater operations are discussed here. Research trends in underwater robotics have been toward minimizing the need for a human presence underwater by increasing the autonomy of the Underwater Robot Vehicle (URV). These vehicles are supposed to search and navigate to its work site, stabilise itself in front of the work site and perform a series of pre programmed tasks with accuracy and precision. A variety of mission payloads e.g. a manipulator, welding attachment, cleaning device, camera, crack detection probe etc. are to be carried on board the vehicles. After completing the task, the vehicle should be free to begin another task or to return to the base station. In order to achieve these objectives, it is necessary for the robot vehicle to have precision control systems, drives and dexterous manipulator systems on board. A self contained, intelligent, decision making autonomous underwater vehicle is the goal of current research in Underwater Robotics. Some of the recent developments towards this goal are explained in this paper.

INTRODUCTION
Mans Dependence upon the oceans for food, transportation, natural resources and security resulted in the need to perform many important underwater tasks. Maintenance and repair of ships, fabrication of structures to prevent beach erosion, recovery or salvage or sunken objects and construction, inspection and maintenance of off shore structures and pipe lines are some of the most common underwater tasks performed. Down through the centuries, technology has reduced, step by step, the limitations of underwater operations. The original limitations of underwater operations were basic things of human diving, such as how long could one hold ones breath, how deep could one breadth with a snorkel and how long could one survive on the air contained in a diving bell. Over the years, these challenges have become obsolete with the introduction of newer technologies and equipment to help the divers. However, it was found that the safe support of divers beyond the depth of around 60 meters is highly costly and lack efficiency in operation due to various obvious reasons. This, along with the lack of trained divers to perform complicated tasks in an extremely hostile underwater environment have led to the development of unmanned underwater vehicles to partially replace the human divers.

UNDERWATER VEHICLE (URV)

ROBOTIC

In recent times there has been a marked growth in the development of Underwater Robotic Vehicles (URV) and associated technologies. This growth has been mainly due to the industrial and non-industrial applications of this technology .Another factor that led to the rapid growth of this area was the enhanced capability of a URV to reach the deeper and harsher areas under sea, where divers cannot reach with ease. The oil and gas industry has special interest in the application of URV technology for the inspection and repair of underwater structures. The URVs are also being used extensively in the maritime industry for ship hull inspection, maintenance and repairing of undersea cable, and to search for underwater objects in turbid water conditions. Underwater Robotic Vehicles refer to all unmanned underwater vehicles from remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). There are more than 120 different types of commercial ROV models and about 60 AUV models. The range of general purpose work-class URV, currently in service, are typically large, teleported, hydraulically actuated systems performing a variety of tasks ranging from weld inspection, crack detection, to welding and cleaning. Fig.1 shows a general scenario of URV in action. These large systems are generally provided with a simple remote control capability and lack the required level of dexterity for frame work. By virtue of their size, these systems are expensive, difficult to deploy and have high power consumption. Research trends in underwater robotics have been toward minimizing the need for a human presence underwater by increasing the autonomy of the vehicle.

AUTOSITB, REDERMORABE are some of the experimental autonomous vehicles used for sea exploration and surveys. A few AUVs havc perfolmed under challenging environments, yet the performance capabilities are still embryonic. In order to develop a fully autonomous-self contained, intelligent, decision making-underwater vehicle, advances in various areas, including high resolution imaging systems; Artificial Intelligence(AI) and knowledge based computer systems; adaptive and learning control systems; acoustic-laser telemetry systems; highly dexterous manipulator systems etc. are to be realized. Some of the major developments in this direction were in the following areas. 1. Development of accurate dynamic models of vehicle, thrusters, external disturbances and environmental effects. This is necessary to predict the vehicle behavior accurately. 2. Virtual Engineering (VE) enhanced ManMachine Interface for training as well as real time control. 3. Off-line simulation of URV in its task environment, enabling the identification of best approach, tools and tasks viability 4. Dynamically accurate simulator to enable an operator to be trained for specific missions. Unified Operator environment for both the simulator & actual URV. 5. Development of a dexterous manipulator for underwater applications with particular emphasis on vith based tracking systems. 6. Development of underwater technologies like vision based tracking system, ACFMNDT weld inspection, underwater welding, Semi- Automated/Automated ACFM-NDT inspection etc. 7. Enhanced URV controls incorporating de-skilling capabilities like station keeping & feature tracking

Virtual Engineering(VE) enhanced Man Machine Interface(MMI) Tele operating a URV requires a variety of cognitive and hand-eye coordination skills. Physically removed from the remote site, pilots rely, heavily, on video and sonar displays to maintain a sense of their vehicles, its tether, and its surroundings. With most URVs operated using direct and continuous tele operation control pilot usually experience fatigue after prolonged operation. Despite the high cost and level of skill required of URV piloting, few formalized training procedures exist. Most pilots learn on-job. The expensive equipment and high deployment costs involved further limit their hands-on training opportunities. Basic training and premission rehearsal remains a very time consuming and expensive activity. In order to overcome these drawbacks, a more intuitive Man Machine Interface (MMI) has been developed at the Robotics Research Centre of Nanyang Technological University . A Multi Mode Control (MMC) system that can be used for training and rehearsal as well as for the control of an actual URV is the core of the MMI. Such a system is capable of providing training for the URV pilot without incurring the costs of deploying an actual URV and its support vessel. The system will have the obvious advantage of offering true look and feel under simulated conditions with a minimum variation to the system as applied under true field conditions. In addition, shorter training time may be possible by eliminating the need to .adapt from working with a training simulator to an actual operating system. The multi-mode URV control system has two main modes of operation: (1) online mode and (2) off-line mode. In the online mode, the system is used for controlling the URV during the actual deployment of

the vehicle. The off-line mode enables the URV pilot to plan and rehearse through the mission before deploying the vehicle. The system may also be used as a simulator for training novice pilots. The same hardware and software architecture is maintained in both modes of operation to maintain the transparency between the real and virtual mode of operation. The URV multi-mode control system, shown in Fig.2, comprises of six separate modules: 1.Message-hlndling module 2.Operator interface panel 3.Force feedback joystick 4.Vehicle and thruster dynamic simulator module 5.Virtual environment module 6. Navigation and intelligent agent module.

1. These modules residing on different machines perfonn a specific task and communicate with one another, thus sharing out the computational loads of the entire system. Data exchanges with various modules were implemented using User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Internet Protocol (IP). The task of routing messages and implementing the modular structure architecture is the job of QNX module. 2. The operator interface panel is the medium through which tile user inputs command to drive the vehicle. For URV

control, vehicle motions in all the six-degree of freedom is controlled by means of a force feedback joystick. At the same time, by using the Graphical User Interface (GUI) controls on the panel, the user can control cameras motion and lights intensity .The graphical controls can be accessed either with the mouse and pointer or through direct interaction with the touch-screen display. 3. Many Modeling techniques for thrusters have been proposed and are good enough to predict the behavior of thrusters, provided the parameters are determined through experimental. studies. Many researchers studied the effect of umbilical cable. and the forces associated with the cable and its influence on URV dynamics. These improved modeling and control techniques for URV have helped the researchers to accurately model and predict the dynamic behavior of the URV. 4. The virtual Environment module is a real time 3D graphical simulation that enables the operator to visualize the proceeding of the URV in the remote environment. Real time simulation software World Tool Kit was used in the VE display module. 5. Navigation and intelligent agents module (NlAM) allows to Increase the to help the pilots to accomplish certain tasks like. Autopiloting,. tracking of targets., obstacle avoidance etc. without much of interference from the pilot. Fig. 3 shows the working principle of NIAM. The level of autonomy of the vehicle increases with addition of new agents to assist the pilots. The modular design adopted in the MMI allows the easy integration of different modules as well addition of new modules with minimum changes to the existing system.

Dexterous Manipulator for UR V The manipulator deployed from a UR V has a number of requirements different from the standard industrial manipulator. During the taxing phase. the manipulator is required to be folded and not disrupt the hydrodynamic properties of the URV. During the deployed phase, the manipulator is required to have a large workspace, but a relatively small dexterous workspace volume. The design of a 7 -degree of freedom, novel, hybridly powered manipulator is under progress at RRC, NTU . Hydraulic actuators will be used in the lower joints where high torque (and power densities) is required, and electrical actuators will be used at the later joints where greater positioning accuracy is required but with an accompanying lower power density requirement. The proposed kinematics structure of the manipulator is shown in Fig.5. The novel kinematics structure has been designed to have a highly dexterous sub workspace, without compromising on the total reach of the manipulator. In order to improve the accuracy and controllability of the manipulator, direct drive motors are used as electrical actuators. The partially folded configuration of the manipulator is shown in

Fig.6. Such a folded configuration will have only minimum influence on the dynamics of the URV during its free flight.

Vision Based Tracking System A wrist-mounted robotic vision system designed for weld seam identification and tracking has been developed.The vision system can scan the surface of the pipeline, and identify the weld seam. A path is created using he approximate coordinates of the weld gathered from the system. In order to detect the weld position more accurately, the manipulator will also utilize a force/torque feedback tactile sensor. A schematic representation of the system is shown below in Figure. The major objective of the vision system is to detect and localize weld scams within the observed underwater structures. A heuristic approach was decided upon over moment-based template-matching algorithms. It is observed that a great number of different lasers produce weld profiles of varying geometry. An Alternating Current Field Measurement (ACFM) Automated Crack detection system lo be deployed, by an Underwater Robotic Vehicle (URV), has been developed for surface breaking crack detection and sizing on painted or coated underwater metallic structures. The technique does not require any electrical contact with the surface being inspected. It is proposed that the ACFM

probe, .operated by the manipulators arm, be moved over the structures to be examined. The procedure measures the x and z direction values of the magnetic field intensity above a crack and the vibration amplitude of the ACFM probe versus position on the examined structure. The initial surface level experiments of the automated weld seam tracking and inspection system have given highly promising results and the system is being upgraded for underwater trials. Fig.7 shows the experimental set up for the automated weld inspection system. The ACFM technique was initially developed to allow crack sizing underwater where other techniques were hindered by the need for good electrical contact. However, the other advantages arising from noncontact and a uniform input current meant that the technique was quickly applied to topside inspections as well, particularly ort painted or coated welded structures. The technique has also been shown to be capable of detecting fatigue damage in welded materials and to be capable of identifying areas of localized micro structural change. New Compact URV for underwater Operations With the improvements in the subsystems of the URV, the need for special purpose, custom made UR V s have also been felt by the users. At The RRC, a new class of compact, custom made Remotely Operated Vehicle has been developed to meet the specific requirements of the project. Fig. 8 shows the model of the vehicle. This ROV has been designed with an objective of converting it in to an Autonomous Vehicle in future. Research work towards the realization of a fully Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is in progress at the center. .

UNDERWATER ROBOTICS TECHNOLOGY AND APPLICATION


Teleoperated Underwater Robotics for the Inspection and Repair of Offshore Oil & Gas Installations The oil and gas industry has special interest in the application of Underwater Robotic Vehicles (URV) technology to the inspection and repair of underwater structures. The URV is also being used extensively in the maritime industry for ship hull inspection, maintenance and repairing of undersea cables, and to search for underwater objects in turbid water conditions. As the vehicles are remotely operated, from the surface, it is very difficult for a human operator to perform complex, dexterous and prolonged tasks. The support system for such operations is also reputed to be extremely costly. Costs in excess of USD 150,000 have been quoted for a typical offshore gas platform inspection. A new generation of URV based inspection and repair systems has been developed . The approach proposes small and dexterous application specific systems. By being application specific we can optimize on the system specifications. The relatively small URV size allows it to physically approach closer to the work site allowing the vehicle to be fitted with smaller and shorter manipulators. The shorter reach results in the manipulator requiring smaller lower torque motors and allowing for electrical actuation. A multi-mode URV surface control with enhanced VE interface has also been developed. This allows a pilot to rehearse tasks in a visually and dynamically realistic simulated environment in an offline mode and to employ the same interface for actual

URV control at sea. Pre-mission rehearsals can significantly reduce overall mission time and help train the pilot to deal with unforeseen situations The VE enhanced interface provides the with a fish eye view of the operation. This is an enhancement on the video images captured by the cameras on the URV. The system comes with pilot assisting agents for structured tasks like: pipeline tracking, obstacle avoidance and moves to absolute positions. In a complementary program, efforts have resulted in the development of automated interpretation of ACFM NDT data and a vision based weld seam tracker. This technology has significance both onshore and offshore. The URV can also be deployed as a stereo filming platform. It carries two synchronized cameras allowing multiplexed images, transmitted to the surface, to produce 3-D stereo images. A concept dual-stage dexterous manipulator is being evaluated and designed. The design is being optimized for URV operations. The URV control software is developed on the QNX real-time OS, and together with the large array of onboard sensors, makes the URV an ideal platform for the development of underwater navigation strategies. Biomimic Underwater Robots Modern vessels traveling on or under the water surface use propellers for propulsion and rudders for controlling the direction of travel. The propulsion force is generated due to the pressure difference between the two sides of the rotating propeller. Such kind of propulsion system will generate significant amount of noise, thus makes the vessel lose the stealth and unfriendly to marine ecology and environment. Quite contrarily, marine mammals and microorganisms usually propel in the water through continuous change of the body. Such propulsive principle is developed by creatures naturally and extremely energy efficient. Here we will

study the mechanics and control of a class of novel propeller-less biologically inspired underwater autonomous systems both theoretically and experimentally. Prototypes of unmanned underwater autonomous systems based on findings. Potential applications of this will benefit marine and coastal engineering, and underwater leisure industry. Currently three different systems have been developed: Amoebot - This is a Metamorphic Underwater Vehicle (MUV) whose locomotion is inspired by the self-propulsion of the microorganism. The microorganism can propel itself in very low Reynolds number flow through the shape change of its body. Similarly, through the change of the body shape, the MUV can swim silently and has the capability to pass regions with obstacles under the water. RoboGlider - This is an under-actuated underwater deployment robotic platform whose locomotion is inspired by the phenomena of falling leaf or paper. A leaf or paper exhibits complex dynamical behaviors because of the lift and drag in solid-fluid interaction. As the shape parameters of the falling object can be modified, the trajectory of the object in the fluid can be controlled. The RoboGlider thus travels underwater through the change of its critical dimensions, e.g., its length, under the influence of gravity. Robo-eel - This is hyperredundant underwater robot, or multi-DOF snake like underwater robot inspired by the swimming of eels. The robots use undulatory movement to swim in the water. The objective is to study the locomotion pattern of the robotic eels. The robots are built using a set of water-proof RC servo motor gears, including water-proof RC servo,

rechargeable battery boxes, RC transceiver boxes, wiring, etc .

ROBOT KINEMATICS, DYNAMICS AND LOCOMOTION


Parallel Manipulator Design A parallel robot is a closed-loop mechanism in which the mobile platform is connected to the base by at least two serial kinematics chains (legs). Applications of this type of robots can be found in the motion platform for the pilot training simulators and the positioning device for high precision surgical tools because of the high force loading and very fine motion characteristics of the closed-loop mechanism. However, the complicate structure of the mechanism not only limits the motion of the platform but also creates complex kinematics singularity in the workspace of the mobile platform, and therefore, makes the design, trajectory planning and application development of the parallel robot difficult and tedious. To overcome this drawback, we introduce modular design concept in the development of parallel robots. A modular parallel robot system will consist of a set of independently designed modules, such as actuators, passive joints, rigid links (connectors), mobile platforms, and end-effectors, that can be rapidly assembled into a complete robot with various configurations (degree of freedom and geometry), possessing different kinematics and dynamic characteristics. In the past, modularity concept has been introduced in the design of serial-type industrial robots for flexibility, ease of maintenance, and rapid deployment. From our experience, a modularly design reconfigurable parallel robot not only possesses the above advantages but can truly shorten its development cycle, i.e., the time from design, construction, to deployment. Because modularity design reduces the

complexity of the overall design problem to a manageable level. Robot Locomotion Most of the autonomous robotic systems assume wheeled- or legged- mobile robotic configurations. Here we set out to investigate non-wheeled land-based robot locomotion. Two new locomotion methods and mechanisms for sensor-based autonomous systems, namely Multi-segment robotic inchworm locomotion, and Twodimensional surface-crawling/inchworm locomotion. The objective is two folds: one is to investigate new locomotion methods for autonomous systems to be deployed in different scenarios, the other is apply and extend the dynamics algorithms, sensorbased navigation and path planning algorithms developed so far for various platforms to demonstrate their wide applications.

FUTURE: Developments in the field of underwater robotic vehicles and the directions for future research have been briefly explained here. The increase in demand for intelligent, decision-making UR V s to perform highly critical and precise works will propel the research works in this area. In the end, an Autonomous Undef\vater Vehicle (AUV) will be evaluated on how well it achieves its mission. In order for AUV s to move from being a fringe technology, AUV developers will have to appeal to a wider audience than technophiles.