Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Research Program

Design of cobotic systems

Architectural design

Is it necessary to cobotize, robotize or assist the human being? Which mechanical architecture meets the task challenges (a serial cobot, a specific mechanism, an exoskeleton)? What type of interaction (H/R cohabitation, comanipulation, teleoperation)? These questions are the first requests from our industrial partners. For the moment, we have few comprehensive methodological answers to provide them. Choosing a collaborative robot architecture is a difficult problem [38]. It is all the more when the questions are approached from both a cognitive ergonomics and robotics perspective. There are indeed major methodological and conceptual differences in these areas. It is therefore necessary to bridge these representational gaps and to propose an approach that takes into consideration the expectations of the robotician to model and formalize the general properties of a cobotic system as well as those of the ergonomist to define the expectations in terms of an assistance tool.

To do this, we propose a user-centered design approach, with a particular focus on human-system interactions. From a methodological point of view, this requires first of all the development of a structured experimental approach aimed at characterizing the task to be carried out through a “system” analysis but also at capturing the physical markers of its realization: movements and efforts required, ergonomic stress. This characterization must be done through the prism of the systematic study of the exchange of information (and their nature) by humans in their performance of the considered task. On the basis of these analyses, the main challenge is to define a decision support tool for the choice of the robotic architecture and for the specifications of the role assigned to the robot and the operator as well as their interactions.

The evolution of the chosen methodology is for the moment empirical, based on the user cases regularly treated in the team (see sections on contracts and partnerships).

It can be summarized for the moment as:

In addition, the different human and task analyses take advantage of the different expertise available within the team. We would like to gradually introduce the evaluation criteria presented above. Indeed, the team has already worked on the current dominant approach: the use of a virtual human to design the cobotic cell through virtual tools [1]. However, the very large dimensions of the problems treated (modelling of the body's ddl and the constraints applied to it) makes it difficult to carry out a certified analysis. We then choose to go through the calculation of the body's workspace, representing its different performances, which is not yet done in this field. The idea here is to apply set theory approaches, using interval analysis and already discussed in section 3.1.2. The goal is then to extend to intervals the constraints played in virtual reality during the simulation. This would allow the operator to check his trajectories and scenarios not only for a single case study but also for sets of cases. For example, it can be verified that, regardless of the bounded sets of simulated operator physiologies, the physical constraints of a simulated trajectory are not violated. Thus, the assisted design tools certify cases of use as a whole. Moreover, the intersection between the human and robot workspaces provides the necessary constraints to certify the feasibility of a task. This allows us to better design a cobotic system to integrate physical constraints. In the same way, we will look for ways in which human cognitive markers can be included in this approach.

Thus, we summarize here the contributions of the other research axes, from the analysis of human behavior in its environment for an identified task, to the choice of a mechanical architecture, via an evaluation of torque and interactions. All the previous analyses provide design constraints. This methodological approach is perfectly integrated into an Appropriate Design approach used for the dimensional design of robots, again based on interval analysis. Indeed, to the desired performance of the human-robot couple in relation to a task, it is sufficient to add the constraints limiting the difficulty of the operator's gesture as described above. The challenges are then the change of scale in models that symbiotically consider the human-robot pair, the uncertain, flexible and uncontrollable nature of human behavior and the many evaluation indices needed to describe them.

Control design

The control laws of collaborative robots from the major robot manufacturers differ little or not at all from the existing control laws in the field of conventional industrial robotics. Security is managed a posteriori, as an exception, by a security PLC / PC. It is therefore not an intrinsic property of the controller. This quite strongly restricts the possibilities of physical interaction (In the ISO TS 15066 technical specification on collaborative robotics, human-robot physical interaction is allowed but perceived as a situation to be avoided.) and collaboration and leads to sub-optimal operation of the robotic system. It is difficult in this context to envision real human-robot collaboration. Collaborative operation requires, in this case, a control calculation that integrates safety and ergonomics as a priori constraints.

The control of truly collaborative robots in an industrial context is, from our point of view, underpinned by two main issues. The first is related to the macroscopic adaptation of the robot's behaviour according to the phases of the production process. The second is related to the fine adaptation of the degree and/or nature of the robot's assistance according to the ergonomic state of the operator. If this second problem is part of a historical dynamic in robotics that consists in placing safety constraints, particularly those related to the presence of a human being, at the heart of the control problem [31] [43], [35], it is not approached from the more subtle point of view of ergonomics where the objective cannot be translated only in terms of human life or death, but rather in terms of long-term respect for their physical and mental integrity. Thus, the simple and progressive adoption by a human operator of the collaborative robot intended to assist him in his gesture requires a self-adaptation in the time of the command. This self-adaptation is a fairly new subject in the literature [51], [52].

At the macroscopic level, the task plan to be performed for a given industrial operation can be represented by a finite state machine. In order not to increase the human's cognitive load by explicitly asking him to manage transitions for the robot, we propose to develop a decision algorithm to ensure discrete transitions from one task (and the associated assistance mode) to another based on an online estimate of the current state of the human-robot couple. The associated scientific challenge requires establishing a link between the robot's involvement and a given working situation. To do so, we propose an incremental approach to learning this complex relationship. The first stage of this work will consist in identifying the general and relevant control variables to conduct this learning in an efficient and reusable way, regardless of the particular method of calculating the control action. Physically realistic simulations and real word experiments will be used to feed this learning process.

In order to handle mode transitions, we propose to explore the richness of the multi-tasking control formalism under constraints [39] in order to ensure a continuous transition from one control mode to another while guaranteeing compliance with a certain number of control constraints. Some of these constraints are based on ergonomic specifications and are dependent on the state of the robot and of the human operator, which, by nature, is difficult to predict accurately. We propose to exploit the interval analysis paradigm to efficiently formulate ergonomic constraints robust to the various existing uncertainties.

Purely discrete or reactive adaptation of the control law would make no sense given the slow dynamics of certain physiological phenomena such as fatigue. Thus, we propose to formulate the control problem as a predictive problem where the impact of the control decision at a time t is anticipated at different time horizons. This requires a prediction of human movement and knowledge of the motor variability strategies it employs. This prediction is possible on the basis of the supervision at all times of the operational objectives (task in progress) in the short term. However, it requires the use of a virtual human model and possibly a dynamic simulation to quantify the impact of these potential movements in terms of performance, including ergonomics. It is impractical to use a predictive command with simulation in the loop with an advanced virtual manikin model. We therefore propose to adapt the prediction horizon and the complexity of the corresponding model in order to guarantee a reasonable computational complexity.

The planned developments require both an approach to modelling human sensorimotor behaviour, particularly in terms of accommodating fatigue via motor variability, and validating related models in an experimental framework based on observation of movement and quantification of ergonomic performance. Experimental developments must also focus on the validation of proposed control approaches in concrete contexts. To begin with, the Woobot project related to gesture assistance for carpenters (Nassim Benhahib's thesis) and a collaboration currently being set up with Safran on assistance to operators in shrink-wrapping tasks (manual knotting) in aeronautics are rich enough background elements to support the research conducted. Collaborative research projects with PSA will also soon provide a larger set of contexts in which the proposed research can be validated.