The robotic systems of the next decade will be, potentially, a part of everyday life as our appliances, servants and assistants, as our helpers and eldercare companions, assisting surgeons in medical operations, intervening in hazardous or life-critical environments for search and rescue operations, and operating in field areas like forestry, agriculture, cleaning, mining, freight transport, construction and demolition, and so on. Personal and service robots will thus be found in all domains of our future life, as cellular phones or laptop computers; they represent not only a hope for a more convenient world but also a massive new market for leading-edge technology industry and significant business opportunities, especially for European industry.
Only a few of the technologies required to build functional personal and service robots already exist at the component level and markets for these products are getting gradually into place. Continuous research and development efforts are required to combine the different technologies, create new products and services, enhance the existing ones for a wide range of possible applications.
As compared to research and development on humanoid robots in Asia, the focus in Europe is rather on useful service tasks than pure social entertainment. Applications of robot companions range from a helper in family homes to executing tasks in offices, public environments and in services. Another important application area is the assistance to elderly and mobility-impaired people that could be helped to achieve some independence from full time caring personnel. In this scenario, bringing a robot to the same manipulation skills as those of human beings is recognised as the crucial issue for a technology transfer from the prototypes available in the European labs to all sectors of the industry, ultimately aimed at opening up services markets to robots.
The realisation of a truly dexterous and autonomous dual-arm/hand anipulation system is still an open research issue: bimanual manipulation is such a complex task combining different strategies, constraints, goals, advanced sensing and actuating technologies, requiring new concepts and design of artificial cognitive systems. The DEXMART project attempts to extend a bridge from research on natural cognition to research on artificial cognition, as it will primarily contribute to the development of robotic systems endowed with dexterous and human-aware dual-arm/hand manipulation skills for objects, operating with a high degree of autonomy in unstructured real-world environments.
The achievement of the research objectives proposed within DEXMART will have an important impact toward the achievement of robust and versatile behaviour of artificial systems in open-ended environments providing intelligent response in unforeseen situations, and enhancing human-machine interaction.
The key innovations to bringing about this impact through the research carried out within the DEXMART project are
|development of original approaches to interpretation, learning, and modelling, from the observation of human manipulation at different levels of abstraction;|
|development of original approaches to task planning, coordination and execution so as to confer to the robotic system self-adapting capabilities and reactivity to changing environment and unexpected situations, also in the case of humans cooperating with it;|
|design of effective control strategies for a dual-hand/arm robot manipulator that can be easily parameterised so as to preserve smoothness during the transitions at the contact with objects;|
|design and development of new actuators, as well as new mechanical structures and materials, able to overcome the limitations of current manipulation devices;|
|development of meaningful benchmarks for dual-hand manipulation.|
To sum up, the DEXMART project has the ambition to fill the gap between the use of robots in industrial environments and the use of future robots in everyday human and unstructured environments, contributing to reinforce European competitiveness in all those domains of personal and service robotics where dexterous and autonomous dual-hand manipulation capabilities are required.