information technology and software
Computer Vision Lends Precision to Robotic Grappling
The goal of this computer vision software is to take the guesswork out of grapple operations aboard the ISS by providing a robotic arm operator with real-time pose estimation of the grapple fixtures relative to the robotic arms end effectors. To solve this Perspective-n-Point challenge, the software uses computer vision algorithms to determine alignment solutions between the position of the camera eyepoint with the position of the end effector as the borescope camera sensors are typically located several centimeters from their respective end effector grasping mechanisms. The software includes a machine learning component that uses a trained regional Convolutional Neural Network (r-CNN) to provide the capability to analyze a live camera feed to determine ISS fixture targets a robotic arm operator can interact with on orbit. This feature is intended to increase the grappling operational range of ISSs main robotic arm from a previous maximum of 0.5 meters for certain target types, to greater than 1.5 meters, while significantly reducing computation times for grasping operations. Industrial automation and robotics applications that rely on computer vision solutions may find value in this softwares capabilities. A wide range of emerging terrestrial robotic applications, outside of controlled environments, may also find value in the dynamic object recognition and state determination capabilities of this technology as successfully demonstrated by NASA on-orbit. This computer vision software is at a technology readiness level (TRL) 6, (system/sub-system model or prototype demonstration in an operational environment.), and the software is now available to license. Please note that NASA does not manufacture products itself for commercial sale.
robotics automation and control
Advanced Humanoid Robotic Arm Technologies
R2 uses brushless DC motors, harmonic drive gear reductions, and electromagnetic failsafe brakes as the building blocks for the powerful, torque-dense actuators in its human-scale, 5 DoF upper arms. Moreover, the use of series elastic actuators and novel tension sensing & control systems represent some of the most innovative technologies present in the humanoid robotic arms of R2. Series Elastic Actuators (SEAs): R2s SEAs achieve fine torque sensing at each of its joints without sacrificing strength or payload capacity. Such capabilities are enabled through the development of several advanced technologies. Specifically, novel planar torsion springs (U.S. Patent No. 8,176,809) are integrated into each rotary series elastic actuator (U.S. Patent No. 8,291,788), while two absolute angular position sensors, calibrated using a novel technique (U.S. Patent No 8,250,901), measure the deflection of each spring. Force and Impedance Control Systems (U.S. Patent No. 8,525,460): These systems use position sensor signals for sending position data to an embedded processor that determines the positional orientation of the load relative to a motor shaft and its related torque on a string. A FPGA-based controller (U.S. Patent No. 8,442,684) provides a high-speed (10 KHz) control loop for the electric motor and gear reduction assembly present in R2 joints. Tension Sensing & Control of Tendon-Based Robotic Manipulators: NASA has also developed technologies to provide tension sensing & control of humanoid robotic arms. First, a tendon tension sensor (U.S. Patent No. 8,371,177) measures strain on tendons (strings) employed in robotic arms. A novel calibration system (U.S. Patent No. 8,412,378) calibrates the tendon tension sensors. Finally, joint space impedance control systems (U.S. Patent Nos. 8,170,718 & 8,060,250) provide closed-loop control of joint torques or joint impedances without inducing dynamic coupling between joints, as well as programmable Cartesian arm stiffness.
robotics automation and control
Advanced Humanoid Robotic Hand Technologies
The R2 hand and forearm assembly represents the cutting edge of humanoid robotics technologies. The highly modular design provides significant improvements over prior humanoid robotic hands, especially in the areas of strength, speed, sensing, and ability to approximate human grasps. <i>Hand, Finger, and Wrist Assembly Design:</i> The robotic humanoid lower arm design (U.S. Patent No. 9,505,134) includes novel robotic finger (U.S. Patent No. 8,562,049), thumb (U.S. Patent No. 8,424,941), and wrist (U.S. Patent No. 8,498,741) assemblies. <i>Actuation & Control System:</i> A novel finger actuation system (U.S. Patent No. 8,467,903) comprised of an actuator, tendon, conduit, tension sensor (U.S. Patent No. 8,371,177), and terminator is perhaps the primary enabling technology for R2s compact, high performance robotic hand. The actuation system is packaged in the wrist (U.S. Patent No. 8,401,700) and reduces the number of actuators, providing significant space savings. Control systems include methods for tensioning (U.S. Patent Nos. 8,412,376, 8,618,762, & 8,056,423) and controlling torque (U.S. Patent No. 8,565,918) of the tendon-driven robotic fingers. The finger actuation control system (U.S. Patent No. 8,489,239) can operate using force- or position-based control laws. <i>Tactile System:</i> R2s hands feature an innovative tactile system that grant the robot a sense of touch (e.g., measurement of external contact forces, shear force, and slippage of objects held in the hand) an important requirement for robots designed to perform complex tasks in an automated fashion. The tactile system is enabled by novel six degree of freedom (DoF) force torque sensors (U.S. Patent No. 7,784,363), three of which are integrated into the fingers (at the proximal, medial, and distal phalanges) and two in the thumb (medial and distal phalanges). A calibration system (U.S. Patent No. 8,265,792) ensures the sensors maintain high accuracy throughout operation. <i>Autonomous Grasping:</i> A novel grasp assist device (U.S. Patent No. 9,878,452 & 9,067,319) enables reliable, autonomous interaction with a broad range of objects (e.g., tools). A particle filter-based contact state estimation device (U.S. Patent No. 8,280,837) performs object localization and characterization.
robotics automation and control
Basic geometry and operation of the fastener design
Reversible Androgynous Mechanical Fastener
The androgynous fastener is lightweight and facilitates assembly through simple actuation with large driver-positioning tolerance requirements. This fastener provides a high-strength, reversible mechanical connection and may be used in high strength-to-weight ratio structural systems, such as lattice structure systems. The androgynous fastener resists tensile and shear forces upon loading of the lattice structure system thereby ensuring that the struts of the lattice structure system govern the mechanical behavior of the system. The androgynous fastener eliminates building-block orientation requirements and allows assembly in all orthogonal build directions. This androgynous fastener may be captive in building-block structural elements thereby minimizing the logistical complexity of transporting additional fasteners. Integration of a plurality of the androgynous fasteners into a high performance, robotically managed, structural system reduces launch energy requirements, enables higher mission adaptivity and decreases system life-cycle costs. The androgynous fastener is beneficial in any application where robotic end effectors are used to join structural components (or other parts) together. It may be particularly desirable for applications requiring frequent movement of hardware to an assembly site to replace joint connections.
Mechanical and Fluid Systems
Multi-Link Spherical Joint
The Multi-Link Spherical Joint developed at NASA Johnson Space Center provides a substantial improvement over typical joints in which only two linearly actuated links move independently from one another. It was determined that the rotation point of a trussed link needed to be collocated at a shared point in space for maximum articulation. If not allowed separate rotation, the line of action through a universal joint and hinge acts effectively as another linkage. This leads to a much more complex and uncontrollable structure, especially when considering multiple dimensions. Comprising the Multi-Link Spherical Joint, a spherical shell encases the cupped ends of each six possible attachments and allows each of those attachments to be independently controlled and rotated without inhibiting the motion of the others. To do this, each link is precisely limited to 15 degrees of rotation off the link centerline, thus allowing a total of 30 degrees of rotation for each link. The shell-and-cup structure can handle the loads of linear actuators that may be used to control and vary the geometry of a truss system utilizing the new joint technology. The calculated operating load that the truss system must handle can be used to scale the size of the joint, further allowing customization of any potential truss system. Additionally, the incorporated linear actuators can be controlled and powered by wiring routed through the joint without putting undo stress on the wires during operation. Accordingly, this innovative joint technology enables more efficient deployment and precise operation of articulating structures. The Multi-Link Spherical Joint is at technology readiness level (TRL) 4 (component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment) and is available for patent licensing. Please note that NASA does not manufacture products itself for commercial sale.
Robotics Automation and Control
Robotic Assembly of Photovoltaic Arrays
NASA researchers have developed the PAPA technology to increase the efficiency of the thin-film solar array assembly process, significantly decreasing assembly time and labor costs associated with manufacturing large scale solar arrays. Traditional solar cell assembly is a labor intensive, multi-step, time-consuming process. This manual assembly will not be possible in a space environment. To enable solar array assembly in space, PAPA leverages robotic automation to distill the traditional assembly method into four fully automated steps: applying adhesive to block substrate, placing the solar cells using a vacuum tool attached to a universal robotic arm, printing the interconnects and buses to connect the cells, and applying a protective cover. The PAPA technology is compatible with a variety of thin-film solar cells, including 3D printed cells (essential for future in-space manufacturing of arrays) and terrestrial manufacturing methods. As solar cell technologies mature, PAPA will be able to incorporate advancements into the paneling process. NASA researchers have begun to employ PAPA solar array fabrication and estimate savings of $300-$400/watt. For extraterrestrial assembly of solar panels the size of a football field or larger, PAPA could result in savings of approximately $500 million; a substantial cost savings driven by standardization and efficiency in the solar array assembly process. By demonstrating increases in assembly efficiency, time and cost savings, and passing multiple environmental exposure tests, the PAPA lab protype has completed the final phases of technology development and is ready for scale-up and commercialization.
robotics automation and control
Upper Body Robotic Exoskeleton
NASA's soft, portable, wearable robotic device is "plug and play" - it includes all necessary electronics, actuation, software, and sensors required to achieve augmented limb movement. The garment is designed such that the human-robot interface distributes load across the torso, maximizing user comfort. Donning and doffing is simple, as the device lowers over the head, straps to the torso via Velcro, and possesses adjustable custom arm cuffs. Actuators are housed in the back of the garment, which pull custom conduit-tendon-based systems attached to the limb at optimized locations, causing the joint of interest to move to the specified orientation. Force sensing is employed to enable optimal control of the limb, measuring user-applied force to maintain commanded joint orientations. Integrated electronics and software provide power distribution, safety monitoring, data transfer and data logging. NASA's garment has multiple modes of operation. In active assist mode, shoulder abduction and flexion, and elbow flexion, may be commanded either simultaneously via coordinated control or individually while holding position/orientation of the other joints. In passive assist mode, the user can freely move the limb while the system provides minimal torque to the shoulder and elbow. The upper body robotic exoskeleton is at a TRL 6 (system/subsystem prototype demonstration in a relevant environment) and it is now available for your company to license and develop into a commercial product. Please note that NASA does not manufacture products itself for commercial sale.
robotics automation and control
Advanced Humanoid Robotic Interface & Control
<i>Technologies for Safe Workspace Control of Humanoid Robots:</i> Safety is critical in scenarios where humans (e.g., factory workers or astronauts) are working in proximity to, or interacting with, R2. Methods for applying workspace limitations in velocity-controlled robotic mechanisms (U.S. Patent No. 8,676,382) and force or impedance-controlled robots (U.S. Patent No. 8,483,877) help to ensure such safety. <i>Autonomous Control Systems for Humanoid Robotics:</i> A multiple priority operation space impedance control system (U.S. Patent No. 8,170,718) provides arm control, including programmable Cartesian stiffness. An interactive robot control architecture (U.S. Patent Nos. 8,364,314, and 8,260,460, and 8,706,299), including a simple GUI, provides an interactive development and work environment that integrates sensor data and feedback generated by R2. An additional system selects and controls appropriate manipulators to perform grasping operations (U.S. Patent No. 8,483,882). <i>Humanoid Robotic Health Management System:</i> A diagnostics, prognostics, and health management system for human robotics (U.S. Patent No. 8,369,992) operates at all hardware and software levels of the robotic system, enabling system-wide observability, controllability, maintainability, scalability, and extensibility. <i>Electromagnetic Motor Braking:</i> Electromagnetic fail-safe brakes (U.S. Patent No. 8,067,909) allow for selective, reliable braking of robotic motors (e.g., brushless DC motors) to ensure safe and effective operation. <i>Highly Durable Connector Pin:</i> To address the high failure rate of connectors in robotic systems with flexible members, a highly durable connector pin (U.S. Patent No. 8,033,876) was developed. The pin increases durability of connectors that are frequently flexed a condition that causes deformation and compromises connectivity.
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