Whole-Body Strategies for Mobility and Manipulation

09 Apr
Friday, 04/09/2010 4:00am to 6:00am
Ph.D. Thesis Defense

Patrick Deegan

Computer Science Building, Room 151

The robotics community has succeeded in creating remarkable machines and task- level programming tools, but (arguably) has failed to apply sophisticated autonomous machines to sophisticated tasks. One reason is that this combination leads to pro- hibitive complexity.

Biological systems provide many examples of integrated systems that combine high-performance and flexibility, with logically-organized low-level control. Sophisti- cated organisms have evolved that depend on physical agility to thrive in a particular ecological niche while mitigating computational and behavioral complexity.

This dissertation investigates the potential for a new kind of hybrid robotic de- sign process. One that is designed for performance and combines mechanical dexterity with low-level embedded firmware to organize behavior and facilitate programming.

This thesis proposes that dexterous machines can incorporate embedded firmware that express the "aptitudes" implicit in the design of the robot and hierarchically organize the behavior of the system for programming. This is a win-win situation where the quality of the embedded firmware determines how efficiently program- mers (whether they be autonomous learning algorithms or human programmers) can construct control programs and how robust these programs can be to unanticipated circumstances.

Personal robotics is an important emerging concept in robot applications that depends on bridging the gap between sophisticated machines, control, and logical organizations of behavior for task-level application development. The impact of such technology could be significant--with applications that include healthcare and telemedicine, exploration, emergency response, logistics, and flexible manufacturing.

This dissertation introduces the uBot-5--a mobile manipulator concept for human environments that provides dexterous modes for mobility and manipulation and con- trol firmware that organizes these behavioral modes locally for use by applications code. Postural control of uBot-5 manages the seamless control of several mobility modes that engage different actuator resources. This interplay of dexterous mobility and manipulation requires a well-developed vestibular system, balance control, and knowledge of the mechanical properties of objects in the environment. The result presents interesting opportunities for robotics research as the arms can be engaged independently or jointly for mobility or manipulation.

The primary contributions of this thesis include the specification and develop- ment of a personal robot for human environments, the implementation of embedded firmware for hybrid mobility and manipulation, and the construction of autonomous, sequential behaviors within the postural stability control suite.

Advisor: Roderic Grupen