Exploration Robotics

Academic Contact: Jordan Boyle
Academic Staff:  Dr Jordan Boyle, Dr Andrew Jackson, Dr Andrew Kemp, Dr Charles Fox, Dr Chris Trayner, Dr Zhiqiang Zhang, Professor Abbas A. Dehghani-Sanij, Professor Ian Robertson, Professor Netta Cohen, Professor Robert Richardson
Industrial Partners: Dassault Systemes, BAE systems, MBDA and Scoutek UK.

Exploration Robotics

Exploration Robotics is all about sending mobile robots into natural or artificial environments where people can’t go (or don’t want to go) in order to gather valuable sensory data and, sometimes, perform physical tasks.

Some of the diverse scenarios and applications in which exploration robotics have the potential to make a significant impact include: Defence and Security; Search and Rescue; Archaeology; Environmental Monitoring; Nuclear decommissioning; Space Exploration; Oil and Gas industry.

Within the broader context of Field Robotics, Exploration Robotics is something of a catch-all, describing most real-world mobile robot applications that are not covered by Service Robotics or Infrastructure Robotics. Some of the use cases under Infrastructure Robotics could also be described as Exploration Robotics, but the former also includes many examples that are more repetitive than is typical of Exploration Robotics. Compared to Service Robots, Exploration Robots must usually operate in environments that are less structured, and more challenging from a locomotion perspective.

Indeed, due to the challenging environments into which Exploration Robots are typically deployed, the locomotion system is often the main focus of the design. Bio-inspired locomotion strategies are often beneficial, drawing on research in Bio-Robotic Control. Overall platform design and system integration are also a common priority, in order to create robots that can survive in hostile environments long enough to perform their mission. They also utilise other types of Underpinning Science and Technology: Exploration Robots must often be small, therefore benefitting from Future Manufacturing Processes; their main purpose is typically to gather information, so they require advanced Sensing Technologies; operating remotely in complex environments, they benefit from advances in Communications and Networks. Furthermore, although there is usually still a human in the loop, exploration robotics are becoming increasingly autonomous, so this field also utilises development in AI for Robotics.

Case Studies

We have developed state of the art robotic systems to explore the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt. Our robots have the capability of climbing 70m whilst deploying snake cameras and drills.
The challenging task of finding survivors among the rubble of collapsed or damaged buildings is one where mobile robots could make an extremely valuable contribution.
We participated in the UK’s grand challenge to develop autonomous vehicles to survey an area for improvised explosive devices and snipers. We developed (in collaboration with the University of Manchester, BAE systems and MBNA) autonomous air and ground vehicles. The novel patented design of the air vehicle was a configuration from 6 propellers in a Hex-rotor configuration. We developed a ground vehicle based around a six motor drive system to enable independent body orientation and locomotion.
We have developed control algorithms to enable unmanned air vehicles to perform perch and stare manoeuvres. The perch and stare approach involves a UAV performing a point landing on a building or wall to observe for an extended period of time and then re-launch.