REU Supplement for SP0027430

Project: Research project

Project Details


Overview: NRI: Electrosense imaging for underwater telepresence and manipulation;Michael Peshkin; Northwestern University Human telepresence and telemanipulation in unstructured underwater environments is essential for tasks such as security sweeps in harbors and oil field servicing. Co-robotic solutions are needed, as the risks are great for human divers and autonomous robots lack the capability to deal with unpredictable contingencies. A key challenge for underwater human telepresence is providing the human with situation awareness, both for navigation and manipulation. Two popular sensory modalities for ROVs are vision (short-range sensing) and sonar (long-range sensing). Vision fails in murky environments, however, such as when mud is kicked up from the bottom. A short-range alternative to visual line-of-sight is needed. The solution proposed here is inspired by biological electrosense. Electrosense is used by the weakly electric fish to navigate and hunt in murky water where vision is ineffective. These fish generate an AC electric field that is perturbed by objects nearby. Electroreceptors covering the body of the fish report the amplitude and phase of the local field. The animal decodes electric field perturbations into geometric information about its surroundings. Electrosense is fundamentally different from optical vision (and other imaging) that create projective images of 3D space. Electrosense data demands new methods of preprocessing for human interpretation, and new computed methods for machine interpretation. A Northwestern University team has been studying electrosense in fish for several years, modeling it computationally, and pioneering electronic equivalents. A parallel effort at the University of Washington, also inspired by weakly electric fish, has focused on electrosense for manipulation. These two academic teams will join with industrial collaborator HDT Robotics to make possible a new human experience of underwater environments, and new machine learning capabilities supporting navigation and manipulation. Intellectual Merit : The proposed efforts are organized into three thrusts: (1) electrosense imaging for operator situation awareness in vehicle-scale positioning and navigation, (2) electrosense pretouch to extract object shape and position at the manipulator scale during underwater grasping, and (3) appropriate experimental testbeds. For Thrust 1, the team will develop a new instrument: a kilopixel electrosense array. Electric images are not readily interpretable by humans, so one goal is to develop data processing methods to facilitate human visual interpretation. The team will also develop algorithms to extract specific features relevant to navigation and odometry. For Thrust 2, the team will develop new methods to use electrosense for planning and control of grasp in water. In contrast to the electrosense array, electrosense sensors used as part of a grasper are sparse and non-coplanar. The team will employ optimal information gathering and machine learning to gain relevant 3D geometric information during approach-to-grasp. The industrial/academic collaboration provides a number of testbeds for human telepresence, including a 4-axis gantry robot in a large water tank; a 10-DoF waterproof arm/hand robot for grasping and manipulation; and a commercial underwater vehicle for reality-testing. Broader Impacts : A sensory modality other than optical vision is needed to improve situation awareness and make grasping and manipulation tasks possible for operators of ROVs
Effective start/end date9/1/148/31/19


  • National Science Foundation (IIS-1427419)


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