Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -Wernher von Braun

Ongoing Projects

Our overarching goal in this basic and applied research and technology development effort is to advance humanoid robot autonomy for the success of future space missions. We will achieve this goal by (1) establishing a tight collaborative environment among our institutions (Northeastern University (NEU) and the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML)) and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, (2) leveraging our collective DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) experience in humanoid robot control, mobility, manipulation, perception, and operator interfaces, (3) developing a systematic model-based task validation methodology for the Space Robotics Challenge (SRC) tasks, (4) implementing novel perception based grasping and human-robot interaction techniques, (5) providing access to collaborative testing facilities for the SRC competition teams, and (6) making the developed software available to the humanoid robotics community.

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Within the scope of this collaborative NSF award, we will develop prosthetic and wearable hands controlled via nested control that seamlessly blends neural control based on human brain activity and dynamic control based on sensors on robots. These Hand Augmentation using Nested Decision (HAND) systems will also provide rudimentary tactile feedback to the user. The HAND design framework will contribute to the assistive and augmentative robotics field.

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Team AERO is competing in the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge to implement vision and navigation algorithms enabling autonomous sample return missions. Team AERO strives to foster a dedicated and collaborative team, composed of graduate and undergraduate students, to develop and implement innovative robot control, navigation, perception, and manipulation algorithms enabling humans to reach further into space. We aim to demonstrate successful autonomous collection of geologic samples of interest utilizing AERO with the intent of gaining experience in the holistic system design process, improving our robotics engineering skills, and building an awesome robot.
To compete in the challenge, the robot needs to be able to navigate a large outdoor area, find and collect various geologic samples, and return the samples to the starting location within the time-limit. In addition, the robot must utilize space compatible technologies, so GPS, magnetometers, compasses, and sonar sensors are banned from the competition. The navigation algorithms of AERO will be applicable to other GPS-denied or GPS-corrupted domains also, such as indoor navigation or actively GPS jammed/spoofed areas.

There are almost 50 million people in the US who have some degree of disability, and more than 6.5 million of them experience problems with self-care. The aim of this research is to develop a control framework for shared human-robot autonomy for a wheelchair-manipulator system which will allow locked-in individuals, who are unable to interact with the physical world through movement and speech, to perform activities of daily living (ADL). Our current focus is on designing a modular, semi-autonomous robotic wheelchair platform with a 7-DOF robotic arm, controlled through a Body/Brain Computer Interface (BBCI). The key design requirements include safety, dependability, modularity, reliability and fault handling in the system. In our use-cased based design approach, we first identify relevant ADL-scenarios, such as handling objects, self-feeding, semi-autonomous movement in an indoor environment (opening doors, navigation through multi-level buildings, etc.) and then define the system requirements. At this stage of the research, we have developed a high-performance algorithm for simulating a tactile sensor system which will enable development of effective and safe control algorithms for grasping. Moreover, our current work focuses on a LIDAR-based navigation framework which will allow for safe and reliable indoor navigation.

This project involves the design, manufacturing, integration, and testing of ORYX 2.0, a modular mobility platform for the 2012 RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition. ORYX 2.0 is a rover designed for operation on rough terrain to facilitate space related technology research and Earth exploration missions. Currently, there are no low-cost rovers available to academia or industry, making it difficult to conduct research related to surface exploration. ORYX 2.0 fills this gap by serving as a ruggedized highly mobile platform with many features aimed at simplifying payload integration. This design creates mission adaptability so that ORYX 2.0 can easily be reconfigured with the addition of mission specific payloads. For the Robo-Ops competition sample acquisition, pinpointing, and storage payloads were developed and integrated, making ORYX 2.0 an effective sample return rover and ideal for the competition.

This project leverages the strengths of academia and industry through close collaboration under a grant by Massachusetts’ Economic Seaport Council. The aim of the project is to develop and demonstrate new technology, inspire future students, and engage academic and industry-focused communities in marine technology and robotics. Current areas of research include flexible body vehicle dynamics and low cost vision-based navigation for underwater systems.

BlueROV2 is highly modifiable, which serves to help the prototyping process for new applications involving BIOSwimmer. Current research involves vision-based navigation with potential for multi-vehicle interactions involving BIOSwimmer.

Our overarching goal in this research and development effort is to advance the capabilities of Toyota Human Support Robot’s (HSR) for a successful team performance and technology demonstration at the 2018 RoboCup@Home DSPL. We will achieve this goal by (1) leveraging our team’s robotics competition experience from the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), NASA Sample Return Robot (SRR) Centennial Challenge, NASA Exploration Robo-Ops Challenge, and Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC), (2) developing a systematic model-based task validation methodology, (3) implementing novel perception based navigation, manipulation and human-robot interaction techniques, (4) developing novel autonomy techniques for mobile robot manipulation, (5) making the developed software available to the robotics community post competition to broaden the impact of our participation. Successful completion of this project will not only progress the technological readiness of autonomous personal service robots for practical applications but also contribute new knowledge and methods to the RoboCup@Home DSPL community.

Past Projects

Team WPI-CMU is competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge with WARNER, an ATLAS robot from Boston Dynamics. The team strives to foster a dedicated and well-managed team, composed of students, professors, and professional engineers, collaborating to discover and lead the state-of-the-art research enabling advanced human-level performance for the Atlas humanoid. We aim to publicly demonstrate the successful completion of tasks related to major disaster response with the intent of leading to relevant peer-reviewed publications, credibility for future DARPA solicitations, and the ultimate goal of winning the DARPA Robotics Challenge. The robot needs to complete tasks that would be expected in a disaster relief scenario. For example, WARNER needs to be able to open doors, turn valves, remove debris, cut holes in wall, enter and drive a vehicle, connect fire hoses, and walk over very rough terrain.