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Remote Robotics for Unmanned Human Environments: Interfacing Robots and Oil Rig Platform Doors

Status: AWARD END DATE: 10/31/2020


Normally-unmanned installations (NUIs) are becoming more prevalent throughout the oil and gas industry. These installations seek to decrease risk and cost to oil and gas companies by removing humans from routine yet dangerous operational environments. However, in practice humans are required to visit and maintain these NUIs much more often than desired. Robotic assets deployed on these platforms could mitigate this risk and cost by managing tasks that require physical interaction, thereby reducing the need for direct human intervention. At the same time, many existing platforms cannot be retrofitted to operate as NUIs. Dexterous robots that can operate in human-engineered environments would allow for the conversion of these existing platforms, greatly expanding the benefit of NUI operations across the industry.

Separate to this industry need, NASA is planning beyond-Earth orbit missions involving human habitats that will be unmanned for the majority of their lives. NASA currently seeks to understand how robots can assist in maintaining these habitats prior to, and following, crew missions. NASA awarded Northeastern University a Valkyrie humanoid robot for the work in their Robotics and Intelligent Vehicles Research Laboratory. SSI will collaborate with the PIs, Professors Taskin Padir and Robert Platt of Northeastern University with the objective to facilitate a testing opportunity for the SmartTouch integration with their Valkyrie robot. The goal of this proposed project is to increase the ability of robotic assets to manage the physical operations and tasks necessary for both oil platform and spacecraft habitat maintenance. In support of this goal, the specific technical objective of the project is to advance the autonomous skills of dexterous robots capable of performing these remote tasks. This will assist remote human operators by reducing their cognitive workload during operations, and promises to increase task efficiency and improve safety at remote sites in the future.

It is recognized that robots will not be completely autonomous in the near future, and therefore will not be eliminating all human support of NUIs. However, baseline autonomous skills that allow remote robots to perceive their environment and manipulate objects within that environment will significantly enhance the ability to perform highly complex tasks without a physical human presence at remote installations. Better manipulation for fine, dexterous tasks, including soft robotics and drones, and advanced perception to decrease the need for real-time human intervention will facilitate a more timely integration of robots into existing platform operations, while improving the survivability of unmanned space-based habitats. SSI is currently exploring collaboration opportunities with local energy companies and other governmental agencies in similar technology areas. If these partnerships come to fruition, the work proposed here will leverage this synergy to demonstrate even further advanced capabilities.

This project will address the following specific research actions:

  • Opening door tool design and pickup
  • Design door opening robot and open the door
  • Transition through the door
  • Comprehensive testing: Fabricating the door fixture and testing