The requirements and implementation of dynamically-deployed robotic systems for use in confined, hazardous environments

Hashem, Joseph Anthony
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This report discusses the design and operation of dynamically-deployed robotic systems for use in confined, hazardous environments, such as those found in Department of Energy gloveboxes to handle nuclear material while keeping humans at a safe distance. The Department of Energy faces unique technical and operational challenges to automate glovebox operations. These operations share characteristics such as confined spaces, extremely harsh environmental conditions, simplified field serviceability, and portability. Human-scale uncertainty must be tolerated since many glovebox tasks require manipulation of objects whose positions are not predefined and vary in unpredictable ways due to external factors including humans in the loop, interactions with preexisting systems, and completing experimental (as opposed to manufacturing tasks) where the final state of handled objects may not be known. Completion of automated tasks is much more difficult without any a priori knowledge of the item to be handled. This effort will examine both the software and hardware requirements and technical challenges associated with this domain. The examined hardware testbeds include two seven degree-of-freedom glovebox manipulators (5 kg payload each) in a dual-arm configuration deployed via gloveports as well as a similar but larger (10 kg payload) manipulator deployed via a transfer port. Several critical operational capabilities are demonstrated, including deployment, collision detection, manipulation, trajectory generation, tele-manipulation, and calibration. Implementing automation within the confines of a glovebox is far from trivial. The unique environmental and system requirements include confined operating spaces, pre-existing, fixed environments, difficulties when performing complex maintenance and repair, and unconventional workspace envelopes. Many glovebox processes are still experimental, so flexible robotic systems are necessary to test and perfect process methodologies while keeping humans at a safe distance. The need for a gloveport-deployed robotic system that can be easily inserted and removed from an existing glovebox stems from these set of challenges. Port-deployed systems allow the operators to move away from hazards while allowing them to return when (or if) necessary. Ultimately, port-deployed manipulators provide a flexible and reversible approach for increasing the use of automation in glovebox environments, without significant redesign of existing processes or the environment where they occur.