Robot Systems for Misanthropic Environments: Launch of the Competence Centre “ROBDEKON”

Robot systems for misanthropic environments: launch of the competence centre “ROBDEKON”

Photo credits: FZI Research Center for Information Technology

Karlsruhe, 25 July 2018 – When chemically contaminated areas have to be refurbished or nuclear facilities have to be dismantled, workers are exposed to significant health risks, despite any precautions and protective equipment. In the future, robot systems will carry out such decontamination activities so that humans can stay away from danger zones. The new competence centre “ROBDEKON” is working on the realisation of this vision, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with twelve million Euros.

ROBDEKON stands for “robot systems for the decontamination in misanthropic environments” and is devoted to the research of autonomous and semi-autonomous robot systems. It is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB. In addition to the Fraunhofer IOSB sites in Karlsruhe and Ilmenau, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and the FZI Research Center for Information Technology are also involved as research institutions. Industrial partners in the consortium are the Götting KG, Kraftanlagen Heidelberg GmbH, the ICP Ingenieurgesellschaft Prof. Czurda und Partner mbH and the KHG Kerntechnische Hilfsdienst GmbH.

ROBDEKON is the first competence centre for robot systems in misanthropic environments and is funded by the BMBF as part of the programme called “Forschung für die Zivile Sicherheit” (research for civil security) since mid-June 2018. The duration of the project is initially limited to four years, but the aim is that the competence centre continues to exist in the long-term.

Multi-sensorial environmental sensing and motion planning

“Our consortium unites excellent expert knowledge of the fields of robotics, remediation and the dismantling of nuclear facilities”, says the Speaker of the competence centre ROBDEKON, Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Jürgen Beyerer. He is Professor of Informatics at KIT and simultaneously Head of Institute of the Fraunhofer IOSB. “We will now systematically drive research on multi-sensorial environmental sensing, algorithms for the motion planning and telepresence technologies forward. This enables robots to carry out decontamination activities independently, while humans coordinate and monitor the work from a safe control station and intervene remote-controlled in difficult tasks."

When it comes to robots, we should not think of conventional industrial robots or humanoid robots, explains Beyerer: “We rely on innovative concepts, such as climbing robots or automated construction machines.”

The project partners have diverse, complementary laboratories that will be expanded, networked and made accessible to external interested parties over the next years. Within the framework of ROBDEKON, promising approaches from research will be implemented with the help of users and industrial partners into practicable systems. A coordination office of the competence centre will be established at the Fraunhofer IOSB for questions concerning the robot-based decontamination.

Fraunhofer IOSB: algorithm toolbox and autonomous excavator

Scientifically, the Fraunhofer IOSB will focus on the further development of autonomy capabilities for construction machines – a field in which the institute has many years of experience: “In particular, we are introducing our algorithm toolbox for autonomous mobile robots into ROBDEKON”, explains Christian Frey, the responsible Department Manager. “It makes it possible to navigate in rough terrains, avoid obstacles and to control manipulators so that, for example, an excavator shovel can actually pick up contaminated material and unload it at the desired location.”

The institute already has various cross country robot vehicles as well as a first automated excavator (see above). Christian Frey: “It is now a question of transferring these autonomy capabilities to other machines and to make them even more flexible, more effective as well as easier to handle.”

KIT: decontamination, telepresence and living lab

One of the main focuses of the activities at KIT are robot systems that can carry out decontamination activities autonomously or semi-autonomously, for example in nuclear power stations. Researchers at the High Performance Humanoid Technologies Lab (H²T) and the Intelligent Process Automation and Robotics Lab (IPR) develop and construct robot systems that are able to clean and dismantle by radiation biologically or chemically contaminated surfaces or plant components. This includes the development of methods for three-dimensional environmental detection for the inspection of the work environment as well as for planning and carrying out decontamination activities such as the removal of dangerous contaminations from objects or surfaces and last but not least the programming of relevant control software.

The devices are monitored and controlled using telepresence technologies that are being developed at the Intelligent Sensor-Actuator-Systems Laboratory (ISAS). A so-called teleoperator, for example a robot, represents the user on site in distant misanthropic environments. The operator can, for example, reconstruct the user’s head movements and then transfer relevant camera images. Additionally, the ISAS is investigating methods to measure and visualise the distribution and intensity of the pollution in order to make the activities as efficient as possible.

At the Institute of Technology and Management in Construction (TMB), a living-lab is being set up in which the robots are tested in various realistic environments and trained for the activities in nuclear power stations. Furthermore, a special robot is being developed at the TMB, which can inspect concrete surfaces in particular for dangerous contaminations, detect them and finally remove them. In the last step, researchers are investigating how the new methods and devices can be used very simply in dumps or contaminated areas.

FZI: force-based dangerous substances handling and augmented reality

In the competence centre ROBDEKON, the FZI Research Center for Information Technology will develop force-based manipulation strategies for mobile robots. These will be able to support humans even in difficult terrains and in dealing with unknown objects during dismantling, measuring safe levels or the recovery of contaminated objects, semi-autonomously or fully autonomously. FZI researcher Arne Rönnau explains: “The FZI already has great expertise in the development of force-based robotics solutions. We are pleased to now introduce this knowledge in the competence centre ROBDEKON and thus make health-endangering activities safer for humans."

Part of the project work is also a detailed three-dimensional mapping of the environment as well as the integration of efficient navigation algorithms. This task as well as the development of intuitive, clear operating concepts for the human-robot interaction, is performed by the FZI. The Karlsruhe researchers also rely on the use of innovative augmented reality and virtual reality systems for the direct integration of important environmental information into the three-dimensional visualisation.

DFKI: robots for extreme environments and hybrid teams

The Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) brings, under the direction of Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Frank Kirchener, its many years of expertise in the development of mobile autonomous robots into the competence centre ROBDEKON, especially for the use in misanthropic and extreme environments such as space or deep sea. In order to achieve the necessary autonomy and thus the ability of the systems to act, robots used in decontaminated areas must meet very similar requirements, especially with regard to their mobility, robustness and learning ability (artificial intelligence).

The DFKI research division has great expertise in the areas of machine learning, teleoperation and human-robot collaboration, in order to ensure the safe collaboration of humans and robots in hybrid teams within the framework of deconstruction and decontamination processes. In the competence centre ROBDEKON, the Robotics Innovation Center will further develop innovative robot systems that possess the capabilities required for this demanding field of application.

About the FZI Research Center for Information Technology

The FZI Research Center for Information Technology is a non-profit institution for applied research in information technology and technology transfer. Its task is to provide businesses and public institutions with the latest research findings in information technology. It also qualifies young researchers for their career in academics or business as well as self-employment. Led by professors from different faculties, research teams at the FZI interdisciplinarily develop and prototype concepts, software, hardware and system solutions for their clients. The FZI House of Living Labs provides a unique research environment for applied research. Every department at the FZI operates under a certified quality management system according to DIN EN ISO 9001:2015. The head office is in Karlsruhe.

The FZI has a branch office in Berlin.

Further information

Julia Feilen, Corporate Communications and Media
FZI Forschungszentrum Informatik
Haid-und-Neu-Str. 10-14, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
Phone: +49 721 9654-943
Email: feilen@dont-want-spam.fzi.de
Web: www.fzi.de/en