Teleoperated robots have been around for a lot longer than industrial manipulators Despite this there is a marked discrepancy m the use of modem computing and control techniques between the two, with industrial manipulators well m the lead This paper examines the advantages to be gamed from an advanced teleoperation controller for manipulators used in hazardous environments The paper also examines the role of sensors in assisting an operator m the prevention of collisions when using teleoperated manipulators The final section reviews the associated area of teleoperated mobile robots with reference to a novel vehcle with which the Company is associated


Teleoperated robots are 50 years old this year The necessity for teleoperation arose with the development of nuclear weapons in the second world war The need to handle radioactive materials safely for both weapons production and, soon afterwards, nuclear power generation led to the development of glove boxes These devices are, as they sound, sealed boxes with flexible tubes into which an operator puts h s arms At the end of the gloves are grippers operated directly from the operators grip In 1947 the Argonne National Laboratory in the USA announced the development of a teleoperator, whereby the arm inside the glove box was powered and driven to mimic a similar arm on the outside of the box Powered and unpowered Master-Slave Manipulators (MSM) have been in use in the nuclear industry from that point up to the present day

Two developments starting in the seventies saw the significant application of teleoperation spread outside the nuclear industry The first was the change of focus of the US Space programme to earth orbit missions and the development of the Space Shuttle The second was the development of oil fields in deeper waters following the oil cnsis of the early seventies

The surprising fact is that, until recently, little has changed in the basic control capabilities of teleoperated robots This has certainly been true of telerobotics in both the nuclear and off-shore sectors The most common telemanipulators have been master slave systems, with the major innovation being the introduction and widespread application of so called mini-master systems in the offshore sector With mini-master systems the replica arm controlled by the operator is of a smaller scale than the slave arm undertaking the task This makes the mm-master easier to accommodate in a control cabin and does not resist the movements of the operator to the same extent as a full size replica master On the debit side the reduction in size of the master arm means that there is a high scaling between movements by the operator and movements of the slave arm This in turn makes fine movements and detailed tasks difficult to carry out

The other departure from this scheme is single axis rate control teleoperation The reluctance to term this an innovation is that arguably this scheme is less useable than the master-slave scheme With single axis rate control each joint is controlled by either a separate switch or joystick device

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