Sharing Control with a Human Operator

Professor Brent Gillespie
Department of MEAM
University of Michigan

Despite phenomenal efforts in research and industrial robotics to date, robots are still not good for much. Although robot dexterity in certain tasks may eclipse that of a human, their actual function in real world situations remains rather dismal. This talk will describe work that begins with the motto, placed in the mouth of the robot, "If you canUt beat Tem, join Tem." That is, we will encourage our robots to pursue its objectives in collaboration with a human operator. And vice-versa: the humanUs objectives will be taken up with the aide of a robotic device. Our aim is to develop new paradigms and new robot designs that will allow a robot and human to work together in a shared workspace, sharing control and co-determining task progression.

I will describe the virtual fixture, whose presence in a remote or virtual environment is known to the human operator through its signature reaction forces, generated by a tele-robotic master or haptic interface. I will also introduce cobots, robots designed specifically for collaboration with a human operator. Cobots generate virtual fixtures in a workspace that is shared with the human operator. Reaction forces in a cobot are due to lateral traction in steered wheels. The cobot is therefore inherently passive, which solves a very important safety concern in human-robot collaboration. Finally, I will describe the design of steering controllers for cobots that create virtual fixtures.