For many robotic applications, there is a need for the integration of human competence with machine ability. In such applications, teams of robots, under the supervision of remote human operators, must coordinate their actions, sometimes to achieve a goal that requires the robots to work cooperatively and, at other times, to work independently without conflicting or colliding with other robots working in close proximity. One such application is the control of a fleet of semi-autonomous mining vehicles cooperating to improve the production efficiency in underground mining. The underground mining environment is typically semi-structured and dynamic, and a cooperative robot control structure would allow either fully- or semiautonomous vehicles to be integrated with human intervention without changing the overall mission goals. The system must provide for effective human intervention that supports the achievement of mission goals, as well as a high-level of reliable task automation by each robot in the fleet.
The motivation for the proposed research program has been ongoing participation in applied research and development projects with Canadian industry that have focused on the automation of full-scale mining vehicles and in-mine demonstrations of these systems. The field of mining automation and robotics has a significant focus on the automation of individual vehicle tasks. The long-term research objective is to develop technology that will facilitate effective collaboration of human-robot teams. Innovative and effective approaches for controlling a fleet of mobile robots that cooperate under the supervision of multiple human operators will be developed.
The short-term technical objectives include the development of techniques to provide for effective task-preserving human intervention in semi-automated robot missions; the development of techniques to facilitate reliable, vehicle-level automation of component robot subtasks; and the development of mobile robotics platforms and simulation tools that support an experimental component of the research that can be used to assess the performance of the technology.