Human divers can apply multiple senses to complex tasks underwater, but they are limited by depth and safety considerations. Robots are becoming more perceptive, dexterous, and thus useful. RE2 LLC today announced that it “has achieved a significant technical milestone” with its STARFISH project, which is intended for mine countermeasures and explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD.
STARFISH stands for “Strong Tactile mARitime hand for Feeling, Inspecting, Sensing and Handling.” Pittsburgh-based RE2, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sarcos Technology and Robotics Corp., said it has successfully assembled and lab-tested a complete gripper capable of grasping and holding a variety of objects. The end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) project is funded through the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR).
“STARFISH uses advanced touch sensors and next-generation haptic feedback to provide robot operators with the last link in terms of robotic perception capabilities—the ability to ‘feel’ objects in the environment,” said Dr. Adam Brant, project manager at Sarcos. “This will enable EOD personnel to locate, sense, and interact with objects they both can and cannot visualize from a remote, safe distance.”
STARFISH demonstrates a deft touch
During lab testing, the STARFISH prototype used three tactile-sensing fingers to successfully achieve a variety of fine and large manipulation skills, including squeezing a pair of tweezers and grasping larger objects. Each finger conforms to the shape it is grasping, enabling it to securely hold objects upon contact.
RE2's STARFISH gripper with tactile sensors. Source: Sarcos
RE2 is developing this technology with Dr. Veronica Santos, director of the Biomechatronics Laboratory at UCLA, and Dr. Jonathan Posner, professor of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering at the University of Washington. The professors' teams designed the multimodal tactile sensor skin that enables the grippers’ sensorized fingertips to feel normal and shear forces.
“When visual feedback is limited, complementary senses such as touch play a critical role in completing dexterous tasks,” explained Santos. “This is true for humans as well as for robots remotely controlled by humans. Tactile sensation will enhance the teleoperation and semi-autonomous control of underwater robot hands for difficult manual tasks.”
The gripper uses an advanced array of visual and underwater sensors to orient itself to its environment, said Sarcos. It will operate in hazardous underwater environments that would typically damage end effectors, including turbidity, ocean swells, and other dynamic conditions.
Data collected from the hand’s interactions within the environment will be sent back to the operator control unit (OCU), allowing the operator to perform complex manipulation tasks from a remote location.
Sarcos to add EOAT to Sapien Sea Class arms
“STARFISH significantly advances the capabilities of underwater robotics across a variety of military and commercial applications,” said Jorgen Pedersen, founder of RE2 and chief operating officer of Sarcos.
“Adding the STARFISH EOAT to our Sapien Sea Class robotic arms will provide robot operators with even greater mobility, visualization, and dexterity in precarious underwater environments,” he added.
“STARFISH is with the U.S. Navy, but our technology can augment humans for safety and productivity in every market, from aviation and construction to solar energy and defense,” Pedersen told Robotics 24/7.
During the next phase of the project, the STARFISH grippers will be attached to Sapien Sea Class underwater arms, which will then be mounted on an remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and tested in a subsea environment.
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