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Robotics, Volume 13, Issue 4 (April 2024) – 10 articles

Cover Story (view full-size image): This paper introduces a pioneering framework for bimanual telemanipulation, enhancing robotic interaction in complex environments by utilising multiple, cooperatively functioning mobile manipulators with optical localisation. Our approach uniquely integrates advanced control schemes to enable precise and synchronised movements between manipulators, thus overcoming limitations of fixed-base systems and enhancing mobility and manipulation capabilities. Extensively tested in both simulation environments and real-life setups, the framework demonstrates significant potential in fields requiring precise and adaptable manipulative operations, such as disaster recovery and industrial maintenance. This research marks a significant advancement in robotic loco-manipulation, offering scalable solutions that are adaptable to various operational contexts. View this paper
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3 pages, 133 KiB  
Editorial
Robotics and AI for Precision Agriculture
by Giulio Reina
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 64; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040064 - 20 Apr 2024
Viewed by 705
Abstract
To meet the rising food demand of a world population predicted to reach 9 [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Robotics and AI for Precision Agriculture)
15 pages, 1632 KiB  
Article
Safe Reinforcement Learning for Arm Manipulation with Constrained Markov Decision Process
by Patrick Adjei, Norman Tasfi, Santiago Gomez-Rosero and Miriam A. M. Capretz
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 63; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040063 - 18 Apr 2024
Viewed by 931
Abstract
In the world of human–robot coexistence, ensuring safe interactions is crucial. Traditional logic-based methods often lack the intuition required for robots, particularly in complex environments where these methods fail to account for all possible scenarios. Reinforcement learning has shown promise in robotics due [...] Read more.
In the world of human–robot coexistence, ensuring safe interactions is crucial. Traditional logic-based methods often lack the intuition required for robots, particularly in complex environments where these methods fail to account for all possible scenarios. Reinforcement learning has shown promise in robotics due to its superior adaptability over traditional logic. However, the exploratory nature of reinforcement learning can jeopardize safety. This paper addresses the challenges in planning trajectories for robotic arm manipulators in dynamic environments. In addition, this paper highlights the pitfalls of multiple reward compositions that are susceptible to reward hacking. A novel method with a simplified reward and constraint formulation is proposed. This enables the robot arm to avoid a nonstationary obstacle that never resets, enhancing operational safety. The proposed approach combines scalarized expected returns with a constrained Markov decision process through a Lagrange multiplier, resulting in better performance. The scalarization component uses the indicator cost function value, directly sampled from the replay buffer, as an additional scaling factor. This method is particularly effective in dynamic environments where conditions change continually, as opposed to approaches relying solely on the expected cost scaled by a Lagrange multiplier. Full article
(This article belongs to the Section AI in Robotics)
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19 pages, 11423 KiB  
Article
Designing Digital Twins of Robots Using Simscape Multibody
by Giovanni Boschetti and Teresa Sinico
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040062 - 14 Apr 2024
Viewed by 1003
Abstract
Digital twins of industrial and collaborative robots are widely used to evaluate and predict the behavior of manipulators under different control strategies. However, these digital twins often employ simplified mathematical models that do not fully describe their dynamics. In this paper, we present [...] Read more.
Digital twins of industrial and collaborative robots are widely used to evaluate and predict the behavior of manipulators under different control strategies. However, these digital twins often employ simplified mathematical models that do not fully describe their dynamics. In this paper, we present the design of a high-fidelity digital twin of a six degrees-of-freedom articulated robot using Simscape Multibody, a Matlab toolbox that allows the design of robotic manipulators in a rather intuitive and user-friendly manner. This robot digital twin includes joint friction, transmission gears, and electric actuators dynamics. After assessing the dynamic accuracy of the Simscape model, we used it to test a computed torque control scheme, proving that this model can be reliably used in simulations with different aims, such as validating control schemes, evaluating collaborative functions or minimizing power consumption. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Digital Twin-Based Human–Robot Collaborative Systems)
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25 pages, 1747 KiB  
Article
The Town Crier: A Use-Case Design and Implementation for a Socially Assistive Robot in Retirement Homes
by Ana Iglesias, Raquel Viciana, José Manuel Pérez-Lorenzo, Karine Lan Hing Ting, Alberto Tudela, Rebeca Marfil, Malak Qbilat, Antonio Hurtado, Antonio Jerez and Juan Pedro Bandera
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 61; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040061 - 9 Apr 2024
Viewed by 963
Abstract
The use of new assistive technologies in general, and Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) in particular, is becoming increasingly common for supporting people’s health and well-being. However, it still faces many issues regarding long-term adherence, acceptability and utility. Most of these issues are due [...] Read more.
The use of new assistive technologies in general, and Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) in particular, is becoming increasingly common for supporting people’s health and well-being. However, it still faces many issues regarding long-term adherence, acceptability and utility. Most of these issues are due to design processes that insufficiently take into account the needs, preferences and values of intended users. Other issues are related to the currently very limited amount of long-term evaluations, performed in real-world settings, for SARs. This study presents the results of two regional projects that consider as a starting hypothesis that the assessment in controlled environments and/or with short exposures may not be enough in the design of an SAR deployed in a retirement home and the necessity of designing for and with users. Thus, the proposed methodology has focused on use-cases definitions that follow a human-centred and participatory design approach. The main goals have been facilitating system acceptance and attachment by involving stakeholders in the robots design and evaluation, overcoming usage barriers and considering user’s needs integration. The implementation of the first use-case deployed and the two-phase pilot test performed in a retirement home are presented. In particular, a detailed description of the interface redesign process based on improving a basic prototype with users’ feedback and recommendations is presented, together with the main results of a formal evaluation that has highlighted the impact of changes and improvements addressed in the first redesign loop of the system. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Robots for the Human Well-Being)
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23 pages, 7567 KiB  
Article
A Framework for Modeling, Optimization, and Musculoskeletal Simulation of an Elbow–Wrist Exosuit
by Ali KhalilianMotamed Bonab, Domenico Chiaradia, Antonio Frisoli and Daniele Leonardis
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 60; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040060 - 6 Apr 2024
Viewed by 1015
Abstract
The light weight and compliance of exosuits are valuable benefits not present rigid exoskeleton devices, yet these intriguing features make it challenging to properly model and simulate their interaction with the musculoskeletal system. Tendon-driven exosuits adopt an electrical motor combined with pulleys and [...] Read more.
The light weight and compliance of exosuits are valuable benefits not present rigid exoskeleton devices, yet these intriguing features make it challenging to properly model and simulate their interaction with the musculoskeletal system. Tendon-driven exosuits adopt an electrical motor combined with pulleys and cable transmission in the actuation stage. An important aspect of the design of these systems for the load transfer efficacy and comfort of the user is the anchor point positioning. In this paper, we propose a framework, whose first purpose is as a design methodology for the synthesis of an exosuit device, achieved by optimizing the anchor point location. The optimization procedure finds the best 3D position of the anchor points based on the interaction forces between the exosuit and the upper arm. The computation of the forces is based on the combination of a mathematical model of a wrist–elbow exosuit and a dynamic model of the upper arm. Its second purpose is the simulation of the kinematic and physiological effects of the interaction between the arm, the exosuit, and the complex upper limb musculoskeletal system. It offers insights into muscular and exoskeleton loading during operation. The presented experiments involve the development and validation of personalized musculoskeletal models, with kinematic, anthropometric, and electromyographic data measured in a load-lifting task. Simulation of the exosuit operation—coupled with the musculoskeletal model—showed the efficacy of the suit in assisting the wrist and elbow muscles and provided interesting highlights about the impact of the assistance on shoulder muscles. Finally, we provide a possible design of an elbow and wrist exosuit based on the optimized results. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue AI for Robotic Exoskeletons and Prostheses)
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19 pages, 5361 KiB  
Article
Bimanual Telemanipulation Framework Utilising Multiple Optically Localised Cooperative Mobile Manipulators
by Christopher Peers and Chengxu Zhou
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 59; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040059 - 1 Apr 2024
Viewed by 1108
Abstract
Bimanual manipulation is valuable for its potential to provide robots in the field with increased capabilities when interacting with environments, as well as broadening the number of possible manipulation actions available. However, for a robot to perform bimanual manipulation, the system must have [...] Read more.
Bimanual manipulation is valuable for its potential to provide robots in the field with increased capabilities when interacting with environments, as well as broadening the number of possible manipulation actions available. However, for a robot to perform bimanual manipulation, the system must have a capable control framework to localise and generate trajectories and commands for each sub-system to allow for successful cooperative manipulation as well as sufficient control over each individual sub-system. The proposed method suggests using multiple mobile manipulator platforms coupled through the use of an optical tracking localisation method to act as a single bimanual manipulation system. The framework’s performance relies on the accuracy of the localisation. As commands are primarily high-level, it is possible to use any number and combination of mobile manipulators and fixed manipulators within this framework. We demonstrate the functionality of this system through tests in a Pybullet simulation environment using two different omnidirectional mobile manipulators, as well a real-life experiment using two quadrupedal manipulators. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Legged Robots into the Real World, Volume II)
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33 pages, 60175 KiB  
Article
Exploring Saliency for Learning Sensory-Motor Contingencies in Loco-Manipulation Tasks
by Elisa Stefanini, Gianluca Lentini, Giorgio Grioli, Manuel Giuseppe Catalano and Antonio Bicchi
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 58; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040058 - 1 Apr 2024
Viewed by 1161
Abstract
The objective of this paper is to propose a framework for a robot to learn multiple Sensory-Motor Contingencies from human demonstrations and reproduce them. Sensory-Motor Contingencies are a concept that describes intelligent behavior of animals and humans in relation to their environment. They [...] Read more.
The objective of this paper is to propose a framework for a robot to learn multiple Sensory-Motor Contingencies from human demonstrations and reproduce them. Sensory-Motor Contingencies are a concept that describes intelligent behavior of animals and humans in relation to their environment. They have been used to design control and planning algorithms for robots capable of interacting and adapting autonomously. However, enabling a robot to autonomously develop Sensory-Motor Contingencies is challenging due to the complexity of action and perception signals. This framework leverages tools from Learning from Demonstrations to have the robot memorize various sensory phases and corresponding motor actions through an attention mechanism. This generates a metric in the perception space, used by the robot to determine which sensory-motor memory is contingent to the current context. The robot generalizes the memorized actions to adapt them to the present perception. This process creates a discrete lattice of continuous Sensory-Motor Contingencies that can control a robot in loco-manipulation tasks. Experiments on a 7-dof collaborative robotic arm with a gripper, and on a mobile manipulator demonstrate the functionality and versatility of the framework. Full article
(This article belongs to the Section Sensors and Control in Robotics)
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16 pages, 2685 KiB  
Article
Motion Planning of Differentially Flat Planar Underactuated Robots
by Michele Tonan, Matteo Bottin, Alberto Doria and Giulio Rosati
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 57; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040057 - 30 Mar 2024
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 907
Abstract
Differential flat underactuated robots have fewer actuators than degrees of freedom (DOFs). This characteristic makes it possible to design light and cost-effective robots with great dexterity. The primary challenge associated with these robots lies in effectively controlling the passive joint, in particular, when [...] Read more.
Differential flat underactuated robots have fewer actuators than degrees of freedom (DOFs). This characteristic makes it possible to design light and cost-effective robots with great dexterity. The primary challenge associated with these robots lies in effectively controlling the passive joint, in particular, when collisions with obstacles in the workspace have to be avoided. Most of the previous research focused on point-to-point motions without any control on the actual robot trajectory. In this work, a new method is presented to plan trajectories that include one or more via points. In this way, the underactuated robot can avoid the obstacles in the workspace, similarly to traditional fully actuated robots. First, a trajectory planning strategy is analytically described; then, numerical results are presented. The numerical results show the effects of the via points and of the order of the polynomials adopted to define the motion laws. In addition, experimental tests performed on a two-DOF underactuated robot are presented, and their results validate the proposed method. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Kinematics and Robot Design VI, KaRD2023)
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18 pages, 13149 KiB  
Article
Posture Optimization of the TIAGo Highly-Redundant Robot for Grasping Operation
by Albin Bajrami, Matteo-Claudio Palpacelli, Luca Carbonari and Daniele Costa
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 56; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040056 - 23 Mar 2024
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1066
Abstract
This study explores the optimization of the TIAGo robot’s configuration for grasping operation, with a focus on the context of aging. In fact, featuring a mobile base and a robotic arm, the TIAGo robot can conveniently aid individuals with disabilities, including those with [...] Read more.
This study explores the optimization of the TIAGo robot’s configuration for grasping operation, with a focus on the context of aging. In fact, featuring a mobile base and a robotic arm, the TIAGo robot can conveniently aid individuals with disabilities, including those with motor and cognitive impairments in both domestic and clinical settings. Its capabilities include recognizing visual targets such as faces or gestures using stereo cameras, as well as interpreting vocal commands through acoustic sensors to execute tasks. For example, the robot can grasp and lift objects such as a glass of water and navigate autonomously in order to fulfill a request. The paper presents the position and differential kinematics that form the basis for using the robot in numerous application contexts. In the present case, they are used to evaluate the kinematic performance of the robot relative to an assigned pose in the search for the optimal configuration with respect to the higher-order infinite possible configurations. Ultimately, the article provides insight into how to effectively use the robot in gripping operations, as well as presenting kinematic models of the TIAGo robot. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Kinematics and Robot Design VI, KaRD2023)
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16 pages, 4895 KiB  
Article
Practical Design Guidelines for Topology Optimization of Flexible Mechanisms: A Comparison between Weakly Coupled Methods
by Simone D’Imperio, Teresa Maria Berruti, Chiara Gastaldi and Pietro Soccio
Robotics 2024, 13(4), 55; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics13040055 - 23 Mar 2024
Viewed by 1016
Abstract
Industrial robots are complex systems, as they require the integration of several sub-assemblies to perform accurate operations. Moreover, they may experience remarkable dynamic actions due to high kinematic requirements, which are necessary to obtain reduced cycle times. The dynamic design of industrial robots [...] Read more.
Industrial robots are complex systems, as they require the integration of several sub-assemblies to perform accurate operations. Moreover, they may experience remarkable dynamic actions due to high kinematic requirements, which are necessary to obtain reduced cycle times. The dynamic design of industrial robots can therefore be demanding, since the single structural component can induce an impact both in the design phase (development strategy and computational time) and at the machine level (global stiffness and natural frequencies). To this end, the present paper proposes first a topology optimization procedure based on the Equivalent Static Loads (ESL) method that integrates flexible multibody simulation outputs. The same procedure also foresees an intermediate static reduction to reduce and to precisely define the application points of the ESL. Secondly, an optimization procedure based on the Quasi-Static Loads (QSL) method integrating flexible multibody simulation outputs is proposed as well. The objective is to carry out a comparison between the two methods and consequently evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of the two. In the end, practical guidelines regarding the selection and application of the two methods are also provided to the reader. Full article
(This article belongs to the Section Industrial Robots and Automation)
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