Achieving effective telerobotic control of industrial equipment

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 89, No. 1002, 1996

Derrick Hunter and David Wells, Robotech Industries Ltd., Calgary, Alberta; Keith Chrystall and Pat Feighan, Alberta Research Council, Calgary, Alberta

Equipment which may be remotely operated, has some degree of on-board intelligence, and which for periods of time may operate autonomously, is referred to as telerobotic. Recent advances in electronics, computers and hydraulic equipment have dramatically reduced the cost and simplified the process of converting standard industrial equipment to telerobotic control. The benefits of telerobotic equipment include improved safety by removing the operator from dangerous situations, reduced maintenance costs and increased productivity. This technology has been proven in various military, nuclear, and police applications. The surface mining industry has expressed an interest in automation and is characterized by a willingness to use remotely operated equipment, however, the majority of telerobotic equipment currently in use is experimental or prototypical. Potential applications of telerobotic equipment for surface mining include remote operation of equipment near dangerous highwalls and other unsafe areas, utilization of robotic trucks for routine hauling operations, and control of jointed equipment. In addition, component technologies of telerobotic systems are relevant to various forms of condition monitoring, operator feedback systems, and vehicle positioning. Attention must now be directed toward resolving more complex problems associated with enhancing feedback to the operator, improving the man/machine interface, and ultimately, improving efficiency. Removal of the human operator from the work site introduces significant complications in replacing the sensory inputs that an operator normally uses to efficiently run his machinery. These can be difficult to define and even more difficult to replicate remotely and may include restrictions pertaining to vision, hearing, and touch. In cooperation with Defence Research Establishment Suffield and the Alberta Research Council, Robotech Industries Ltd. is pursuing the development of additional technologies to further enhance an operator’s ability to control remote telerobotic equipment. These developments include a head-mounted display, additional control station displays and improvements to coordinated motion control software. Prototypes of these developments are expected to be completed and tested by the fourth quarter of 1997.