We have developed a prototype teleoperation system for mobile robots utilizing a virtual world for better image display for human operators. Figure 2 shows the overall structure of the developed system. The system consists of human interface devices, operation targets and a computer. This system uses TCP/IP (Internet protocol) and each part is connected to the network. In particular, the robot and the computer are linked via the Internet through a radio LAN.
Human interface and devices
The input and output devices. A joystick is used as an input device for easy maneuvering of the robot, whereas the pan and tilt motions of the camera are controlled by the output from a FASTRAK motion tracking system attached to an HMD (Head Mounted Display). The real image captured by the real camera and the virtual image captured by the virtual camera on the virtual robot are displayed on the HMD. The joystick has 2 d.o.f. for forward-backward and left-right, and a button which is pushed when the operator wants to rotate the robot. The human operator inputs the motion commands using the joystick. When the FASTRAK motion tracking system detects a change of magnetic field, it converts this to a numerical value of an angle. The motions of the camera on the real robot and the virtual robot are managed by the value of the angle.
In the real world. The real world consists of a mobile robot, a single onboard CCD camera and an environment in which the mobile robot moves around. The mobile robot has a specially designed driving mechanism and wheels with free rollers. This machinery realizes omni-directional motion and decoupled control of 3-d.o.f movement in a horizontal plane. The omni-directional mobility is suitable for teleoperation systems because an operator can maneuver the robot intuitively. The dimensions of the omni-directional mobile robot are: width = 0.45 m, depth = 0.45 m and height = 0.53 m. The robot has its own IP address and is connected with the computer though a radio LAN device and TCP/IP. It is a kind of physical agent on the Internet. The robot carries a CCD camera with pan (from + 40 Degrees to -40 Degrees), tilt (from + 20 Degrees to -20 Degrees) and zoom functions.
In the virtual world. The virtual world consists of an environment model, a mobile robot model and a process for the virtual robot. The environment model is created using computer graphics based on the real environment where the real mobile robot exists. It is a very difficult problem to automatically model the environment using sensor information, but our target in this paper is to improve the network time-delay problem. Here, we assume that the environment model is given or known. The modeling of an unknown environment using sensor information is a separate and difficult problem. Similarly, the mobile robot model is also created using computer graphics based on the real mobile robot. Figure 6 shows the structure of the overall processes for generation of the virtual world. The roles of the processes for the virtual robot are data acquisition and data processing for operation of the robot in the virtual world. On a graphical workstation, the process which displays the animation is the parent process and the other processes, which receive the angle of the camera and calculate the coordinates of the robot positions, are child processes.
ROBOTS – FROM FANTASY TO REALITY
We call our age of the scientific and technological revolution because it abounds in new discoveries without which further human progress would be impossible. The terms "robot" and "cybernetic explosion" are perhaps an indicator. Only recently they were confined to the world of science fiction. Now they play a growing role in the real world.
Today there are about 60 000 machine in the world that can be called robots. They get a lot of attention because of the tremendous prospects for their application in the most important fields of science and technology. They are indispensable when man himself cannot get to the object of his research - radioactive materials, outer space or the ocean floor. And although these are in themselves vast areas where robot technology can be used, they are certainly not the only ones.
OUR MECHANICAL ASSISTANTS
Most of us are familiar with the term "production robots" – programme-controlled automatic devices that can replace man at machines, machine tools and conveyor lines, doing all the monotonous operations which are often quite arduous. Automation has already relived man of much of his work on machines.
Machines are becoming more and more sophisticated and "skilled", and man's work on them simpler and less skilled.
So one might assume that in designing these kinds of machines it would have been expedient to equip them with devices making "self-serving". A machine might take the billet itself, install it properly, work it, and then stack it.
But it seems that these kinds of "simple" jobs on most machines, equipment and assembly operation are simple only when man does them himself. When attempts are made to automate the auxiliary operation by traditional methods, the automatic system is either very specialized, i.e., it can handle only one kind of item, thus limiting its use, or supersophisticated, sometimes even more complicated and costlier than the machine itself.
A production robot is an all-purpose automatic device that can be used to work on different machines and different production processes. This is done by basing the robot's control system on "digital mechanisms" that enable its operation programme to be changed quickly.