Frontiers in Robotics and AI

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Objective: The instrument THERapy-related InterACTion (THER-I-ACT) was developed to document therapeutic interactions comprehensively in the human therapist–patient setting. Here, we investigate whether the instrument can also reliably be used to characterise therapeutic interactions when a digital system with a humanoid robot as a therapeutic assistant is used.

Methods:Participants and therapy: Seventeen stroke survivors receiving arm rehabilitation (i.e., arm basis training (ABT) for moderate-to-severe arm paresis [n = 9] or arm ability training (AAT) for mild arm paresis [n = 8]) using the digital therapy system E-BRAiN over a course of nine sessions. Analysis of the therapeutic interaction: A total of 34 therapy sessions were videotaped. All therapeutic interactions provided by the humanoid robot during the first and the last (9th) session of daily training were documented both in terms of their frequency and time used for that type of interaction using THER-I-ACT. Any additional therapeutic interaction spontaneously given by the supervising staff or a human helper providing physical assistance (ABT only) was also documented. All ratings were performed by two trained independent raters.

Statistical analyses: Intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) were calculated for the frequency of occurrence and time used for each category of interaction observed.

Results: Therapeutic interactions could comprehensively be documented and were observed across the dimensions provision of information, feedback, and bond-related interactions. ICCs for therapeutic interaction category assessments from 34 therapy sessions by two independent raters were high (ICC ≥0.90) for almost all categories of the therapeutic interaction observed, both for the occurrence frequency and time used for categories of therapeutic interactions, and both for the therapeutic interaction performed by the robot and, even though much less frequently observed, additional spontaneous therapeutic interactions by the supervisory staff and a helper being present. The ICC was similarly high for an overall subjective rating of the concentration and engagement of patients (0.87).

Conclusion: Therapeutic interactions can comprehensively and reliably be documented by trained raters using the instrument THER-I-ACT not only in the traditional patient–therapist setting, as previously shown, but also in a digital therapy setting with a humanoid robot as the therapeutic agent and for more complex therapeutic settings with more than one therapeutic agent being present.

This paper explores a mixed assembly architecture trade study for a Built On-orbit Robotically assembled Gigatruss (BORG). Robotic in-space assembly (ISA) and servicing is a crucial field to expand endeavors in space. Currently, large structures in space are commonly only deployable and must be efficiently folded and packed into a launch vehicle (LV) and then deployed perfectly for operational status to be achieved. To actualize being able to build increasingly large structures in space, this scheme becomes less feasible, being constrained by LV volume and mass requirements. ISA allows the use of multiple launches to create even larger structures. The common ISA proposals consist of either strut-by-strut or multiple deployable module construction methodologies. In this paper, a mixed assembly scheme is explored and a trade study is conducted on its possible advantages with respect to many phases of a mission: 1) manufacturing, 2) stowage and transport, 3) ISA, and 4) servicing. Finally, a weighted decision matrix was created to help compare the various advantages and disadvantages of different architectural schemes.

During the recent decade, we have witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of soft robotics. Rekindled interest in soft robots is partially associated with the advances in manufacturing techniques that enable the fabrication of sophisticated multi-material robotic bodies with dimensions ranging across multiple length scales. In recent manuscripts, a reader might find peculiar-looking soft robots capable of grasping, walking, or swimming. However, the growth in publication numbers does not always reflect the real progress in the field since many manuscripts employ very similar ideas and just tweak soft body geometries. Therefore, we unreservedly agree with the sentiment that future research must move beyond “soft for soft’s sake.” Soft robotics is an undoubtedly fascinating field, but it requires a critical assessment of the limitations and challenges, enabling us to spotlight the areas and directions where soft robots will have the best leverage over their traditional counterparts. In this perspective paper, we discuss the current state of robotic research related to such important aspects as energy autonomy, electronic-free logic, and sustainability. The goal is to critically look at perspectives of soft robotics from two opposite points of view provided by early career researchers and highlight the most promising future direction, that is, in our opinion, the employment of soft robotic technologies for soft bio-inspired artificial organs.

In view of the need for emergency steering to avoid collision when the vehicle is in a dangerous scene, and the stability control of the vehicle during collision avoidance. This paper proposes a planning and control framework. A path planner considering the kinematics and dynamics of the vehicle system is used to formulate the safe driving path under emergency conditions. LQR lateral control algorithm is designed to calculate the output steering wheel angle. On this basis, adaptive MPC control algorithm and four-wheel braking force distribution control algorithm are designed to achieve coordinated control of vehicle driving stability and collision avoidance safety. The simulation results show that the proposed algorithm can complete the steering collision avoidance task quickly and stably.

Manual annotation for human action recognition with content semantics using 3D Point Cloud (3D-PC) in industrial environments consumes a lot of time and resources. This work aims to recognize, analyze, and model human actions to develop a framework for automatically extracting content semantics. Main Contributions of this work: 1. design a multi-layer structure of various DNN classifiers to detect and extract humans and dynamic objects using 3D-PC preciously, 2. empirical experiments with over 10 subjects for collecting datasets of human actions and activities in one industrial setting, 3. development of an intuitive GUI to verify human actions and its interaction activities with the environment, 4. design and implement a methodology for automatic sequence matching of human actions in 3D-PC. All these procedures are merged in the proposed framework and evaluated in one industrial Use-Case with flexible patch sizes. Comparing the new approach with standard methods has shown that the annotation process can be accelerated by 5.2 times through automation.

Introduction: Event cameras report pixel-wise brightness changes at high temporal resolutions, allowing for high speed tracking of features in visual inertial odometry (VIO) estimation, but require a paradigm shift, as common practices from the past decades using conventional cameras, such as feature detection and tracking, do not translate directly. One method for feature detection and tracking is the Eventbased Kanade-Lucas-Tomasi tracker (EKLT), an hybrid approach that combines frames with events to provide a high speed tracking of features. Despite the high temporal resolution of the events, the local nature of the registration of features imposes conservative limits to the camera motion speed.

Methods: Our proposed approach expands on EKLT by relying on the concurrent use of the event-based feature tracker with a visual inertial odometry system performing pose estimation, leveraging frames, events and Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) information to improve tracking. The problem of temporally combining high-rate IMU information with asynchronous event cameras is solved by means of an asynchronous probabilistic filter, in particular an Unscented Kalman Filter (UKF). The proposed method of feature tracking based on EKLT takes into account the state estimation of the pose estimator running in parallel and provides this information to the feature tracker, resulting in a synergy that can improve not only the feature tracking, but also the pose estimation. This approach can be seen as a feedback, where the state estimation of the filter is fed back into the tracker, which then produces visual information for the filter, creating a “closed loop”.

Results: The method is tested on rotational motions only, and comparisons between a conventional (not event-based) approach and the proposed approach are made, using synthetic and real datasets. Results support that the use of events for the task improve performance.

Discussion: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work proposing the fusion of visual with inertial information using events cameras by means of an UKF, as well as the use of EKLT in the context of pose estimation. Furthermore, our closed loop approach proved to be an improvement over the base EKLT, resulting in better feature tracking and pose estimation. The inertial information, despite prone to drifting over time, allows keeping track of the features that would otherwise be lost. Then, feature tracking synergically helps estimating and minimizing the drift.

On-orbit service spacecraft with redundant actuators need to overcome orbital and attitude coupling when performing proximity maneuvers. In addition, transient/steady-state performance is required to fulfill the user-defined requirements. To these ends, this paper introduces a fixed-time tracking regulation and actuation allocation scheme for redundantly actuated spacecraft. The coupling effect of translational and rotational motions is described by dual quaternion. Based on this, we propose a non-singular fast terminal sliding mode controller to guarantee fixed-time tracking performance in the presence of external disturbances and system uncertainties, where the settling time is only dependent on user-defined control parameters rather than initial values. The unwinding problem caused by the redundancy of dual quaternion is handled by a novel attitude error function. Moreover, optimal quadratic programming is incorporated into null space pseudo-inverse control allocation that ensures the actuation smoothness and never violates the maximum output capability of each actuator. Numerical simulations on a spacecraft platform with symmetric thruster configuration demonstrate the validity of the proposed approach.

A few years ago, powered prostheses triggered new technological advances in diverse areas such as mobility, comfort, and design, which have been essential to improving the quality of life of individuals with lower limb disability. The human body is a complex system involving mental and physical health, meaning a dependant relationship between its organs and lifestyle. The elements used in the design of these prostheses are critical and related to lower limb amputation level, user morphology and human-prosthetic interaction. Hence, several technologies have been employed to accomplish the end user’s needs, for example, advanced materials, control systems, electronics, energy management, signal processing, and artificial intelligence. This paper presents a systematic literature review on such technologies, to identify the latest advances, challenges, and opportunities in developing lower limb prostheses with the analysis on the most significant papers. Powered prostheses for walking in different terrains were illustrated and examined, with the kind of movement the device should perform by considering the electronics, automatic control, and energy efficiency. Results show a lack of a specific and generalised structure to be followed by new developments, gaps in energy management and improved smoother patient interaction. Additionally, Human Prosthetic Interaction (HPI) is a term introduced in this paper since no other research has integrated this interaction in communication between the artificial limb and the end-user. The main goal of this paper is to provide, with the found evidence, a set of steps and components to be followed by new researchers and experts looking to improve knowledge in this field.

Recently, soft robotics has gained considerable attention as it promises numerous applications thanks to unique features originating from the physical compliance of the robots. Biomimetic underwater robots are a promising application in soft robotics and are expected to achieve efficient swimming comparable to the real aquatic life in nature. However, the energy efficiency of soft robots of this type has not gained much attention and has been fully investigated previously. This paper presents a comparative study to verify the effect of soft-body dynamics on energy efficiency in underwater locomotion by comparing the swimming of soft and rigid snake robots. These robots have the same motor capacity, mass, and body dimensions while maintaining the same actuation degrees of freedom. Different gait patterns are explored using a controller based on grid search and the deep reinforcement learning controller to cover the large solution space for the actuation space. The quantitative analysis of the energy consumption of these gaits indicates that the soft snake robot consumed less energy to reach the same velocity as the rigid snake robot. When the robots swim at the same average velocity of 0.024 m/s, the required power for the soft-body robot is reduced by 80.4% compared to the rigid counterpart. The present study is expected to contribute to promoting a new research direction to emphasize the energy efficiency advantage of soft-body dynamics in robot design.

This work explores the recent research conducted towards the development of novel classes of devices in wearable and implantable medical applications allowed by the introduction of the soft robotics approach. In the medical field, the need for materials with mechanical properties similar to biological tissues is one of the first considerations that arises to improve comfort and safety in the physical interaction with the human body. Thus, soft robotic devices are expected to be able of accomplishing tasks no traditional rigid systems can do. In this paper, we describe future perspectives and possible routes to address scientific and clinical issues still hampering the accomplishment of ideal solutions in clinical practice.

Recent investigations of the electric braking booster (E-Booster) focus on its potential to enhance brake energy regeneration. A vehicle’s hydraulic system is composed of the E-Booster and electric stability control to control the master cylinder and wheel cylinders. This paper aims to address the independent closed-loop control of the position and pressure as well as the maintenance of the pedal feel. To track both the reference signals related to piston displacement and the wheel cylinder pressure, an explicit model predictive control (MPC) is developed. First, the new flow model is introduced as the foundation for controller design and simulation. Next, in accordance with the operational conditions, the entire system is divided into three switchable subsystems. The three distributed MPCs are constructed based on the linearized subsystems, and a state machine is used to perform the state jump across the controllers. A linear piecewise affine control law can then be obtained by solving the quadratic program (QP) of explicit MPC. Afterwards, the non-linear extended Kalman filter including the recorded time-variant process noise is used to estimate all the state variables. The effectiveness of the explicit MPC is evidenced by the simulations compared with a single MPC in regenerative and dead-zone conditions. The proposed controller decreases the latency significantly by 85 milliseconds, which also helps to improve accuracy by 22.6%. Furthermore, the pedal feel remains consistent, even when factoring in the number of vibrations caused by the inherent hydraulic characteristic of pressure versus volume.

The ability to adapt and conform to angular and uneven surfaces improves the suction cup’s performance in grasping and manipulation. However, in most cases, the adaptation costs lack of required stiffness for manipulation after surface attachment; thus, the ideal scenario is to have compliance during adaptation and stiffness after attachment to the surface. Inspired by the capability of stiffness regulation in octopus suction cup, this article presents a suction cup that adapts to steep angular surfaces due to compliance and has high stiffness after attachment. In this design, the stiffness after attachment is provided by using granular jamming as vacuum driven stiffness modulation. Thus, the design is composed of a conventional active suction pad connected to a granular stalk, emulating a hinge behavior during adaptation and creating high stiffness by jamming granular particles driven by the same vacuum as the suction pad. During the experiment, the suction cup can adapt to angles up to 85° with a force lower than 0.5 N. We also investigated the effect of granular stalk’s length on the adaptation and how this design performs compared to passive adaptation without stiffness modulation.

In Cable-Suspended Parallel Robots (CSPRs), reconfigurability, i.e., the possibility of modifying the position of the cable connection points on the base frame, is particularly interesting to investigate, since it paves the way for future industrial and service applications of CSPRs, where the base frame can also be replaced by mobile agents. This report focuses on fully actuated Translational Reconfigurable CSPRs (TR-CSPRs), i.e., reconfigurable CSPRs with a point mass end-effector driven by three cables. The objective of the work is twofold. First, it is shown that the Wrench Exertion Capability (WEC) performance index can be exploited to identify the configurations of the cable connection points optimizing a task-related performance in a single point or throughout the workspace, and hence to implement a workspace analysis. Then, by referring to the case of a TR-CSPR with a single reconfigurable connection point and in quasi-static working condition, an analytical approach is provided to reconfigure the robot while executing a task to avoid one of the paramount problems of cable robots: cable slackness. Brought together, the two contributions allow defining a reconfiguration strategy for TR-CSPRs. The strategy is presented by applying it to a numerical example of a TR-CSPR used for lifting and moving a load along a prescribed path: the use of the WEC allows analyzing the workspace and predicting if robot reconfigurability makes it possible to pass quasi-statically along all the points of a given path; then reconfigurability is exploited to avoid cable slackness along the path.

Self-organized groups of robots have generally coordinated their behaviors using quite simple social interactions. Although simple interactions are sufficient for some group behaviors, future research needs to investigate more elaborate forms of coordination, such as social cognition, to progress towards real deployments. In this perspective, we define social cognition among robots as the combination of social inference, social learning, social influence, and knowledge transfer, and propose that these abilities can be established in robots by building underlying mechanisms based on behaviors observed in humans. We review key social processes observed in humans that could inspire valuable capabilities in robots and propose that relevant insights from human social cognition can be obtained by studying human-controlled avatars in virtual environments that have the correct balance of embodiment and constraints. Such environments need to allow participants to engage in embodied social behaviors, for instance through situatedness and bodily involvement, but, at the same time, need to artificially constrain humans to the operational conditions of robots, for instance in terms of perception and communication. We illustrate our proposed experimental method with example setups in a multi-user virtual environment.

Introduction: Robot-assisted neurorehabilitation is becoming an established method to complement conventional therapy after stroke and provide intensive therapy regimes in unsupervised settings (e.g., home rehabilitation). Intensive therapies may temporarily contribute to increasing muscle tone and spasticity, especially in stroke patients presenting tone alterations. If sustained without supervision, such an increase in muscle tone could have negative effects (e.g., functional disability, pain). We propose an online perturbation-based method that monitors finger muscle tone during unsupervised robot-assisted hand therapy exercises.

Methods: We used the ReHandyBot, a novel 2 degrees of freedom (DOF) haptic device to perform robot-assisted therapy exercises training hand grasping (i.e., flexion-extension of the fingers) and forearm pronosupination. The tone estimation method consisted of fast (150 ms) and slow (250 ms) 20 mm ramp-and-hold perturbations on the grasping DOF, which were applied during the exercises to stretch the finger flexors. The perturbation-induced peak force at the finger pads was used to compute tone. In this work, we evaluated the method performance in a stiffness identification experiment with springs (0.97 and 1.57 N/mm), which simulated the stiffness of a human hand, and in a pilot study with subjects with increased muscle tone after stroke and unimpaired, which performed one active sensorimotor exercise embedding the tone monitoring method.

Results: The method accurately estimates forces with root mean square percentage errors of 3.8% and 11.3% for the soft and stiff spring, respectively. In the pilot study, six chronic ischemic stroke patients [141.8 (56.7) months after stroke, 64.3 (9.5) years old, expressed as mean (std)] and ten unimpaired subjects [59.9 (6.1) years old] were tested without adverse events. The average reaction force at the level of the fingertip during slow and fast perturbations in the exercise were respectively 10.7 (5.6) N and 13.7 (5.6) N for the patients and 5.8 (4.2) N and 6.8 (5.1) N for the unimpaired subjects.

Discussion: The proposed method estimates reaction forces of physical springs accurately, and captures online increased reaction forces in persons with stroke compared to unimpaired subjects within unsupervised human-robot interactions. In the future, the identified range of muscle tone increase after stroke could be used to customize therapy for each subject and maintain safety during intensive robot-assisted rehabilitation.

Creating burrows through natural soils and sediments is a problem that evolution has solved numerous times, yet burrowing locomotion is challenging for biomimetic robots. As for every type of locomotion, forward thrust must overcome resistance forces. In burrowing, these forces will depend on the sediment mechanical properties that can vary with grain size and packing density, water saturation, organic matter and depth. The burrower typically cannot change these environmental properties, but can employ common strategies to move through a range of sediments. Here we propose four challenges for burrowers to solve. First, the burrower has to create space in a solid substrate, overcoming resistance by e.g., excavation, fracture, compression, or fluidization. Second, the burrower needs to locomote into the confined space. A compliant body helps fit into the possibly irregular space, but reaching the new space requires non-rigid kinematics such as longitudinal extension through peristalsis, unbending, or eversion. Third, to generate the required thrust to overcome resistance, the burrower needs to anchor within the burrow. Anchoring can be achieved through anisotropic friction or radial expansion, or both. Fourth, the burrower must sense and navigate to adapt the burrow shape to avoid or access different parts of the environment. Our hope is that by breaking the complexity of burrowing into these component challenges, engineers will be better able to learn from biology, since animal performance tends to exceed that of their robotic counterparts. Since body size strongly affects space creation, scaling may be a limiting factor for burrowing robotics, which are typically built at larger scales. Small robots are becoming increasingly feasible, and larger robots with non-biologically-inspired anteriors (or that traverse pre-existing tunnels) can benefit from a deeper understanding of the breadth of biological solutions in current literature and to be explored by continued research.

This paper introduces an optimal algorithm for solving the discrete grid-based coverage path planning (CPP) problem. This problem consists in finding a path that covers a given region completely. First, we propose a CPP-solving baseline algorithm based on the iterative deepening depth-first search (ID-DFS) approach. Then, we introduce two branch-and-bound strategies (Loop detection and an Admissible heuristic function) to improve the results of our baseline algorithm. We evaluate the performance of our planner using six types of benchmark grids considered in this study: Coast-like, Random links, Random walk, Simple-shapes, Labyrinth and Wide-Labyrinth grids. We are first to consider these types of grids in the context of CPP. All of them find their practical applications in real-world CPP problems from a variety of fields. The obtained results suggest that the proposed branch-and-bound algorithm solves the problem optimally (i.e., the exact solution is found in each case) orders of magnitude faster than an exhaustive search CPP planner. To the best of our knowledge, no general CPP-solving exact algorithms, apart from an exhaustive search planner, have been proposed in the literature.