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

Overall Objectives

The long-term vision of the Rainbow team is to develop the next generation of sensor-based robots able to navigate and/or interact in complex unstructured environments together with human users. Clearly, the word “together” can have very different meanings depending on the particular context: for example, it can refer to mere co-existence (robots and humans share some space while performing independent tasks), human-awareness (the robots need to be aware of the human state and intentions for properly adjusting their actions), or actual cooperation (robots and humans perform some shared task and need to coordinate their actions).

One could perhaps argue that these two goals are somehow in conflict since higher robot autonomy should imply lower (or absence of) human intervention. However, we believe that our general research direction is well motivated since: (i) despite the many advancements in robot autonomy, complex and high-level cognitive-based decisions are still out of reach. In most applications involving tasks in unstructured environments, uncertainty, and interaction with the physical word, human assistance is still necessary, and will most probably be for the next decades. On the other hand, robots are extremely capable at autonomously executing specific and repetitive tasks, with great speed and precision, and at operating in dangerous/remote environments, while humans possess unmatched cognitive capabilities and world awareness which allow them to take complex and quick decisions; (ii) the cooperation between humans and robots is often an implicit constraint of the robotic task itself. Consider for instance the case of assistive robots supporting injured patients during their physical recovery, or human augmentation devices. It is then important to study proper ways of implementing this cooperation; (iii) finally, safety regulations can require the presence at all times of a person in charge of supervising and, if necessary, take direct control of the robotic workers. For example, this is a common requirement in all applications involving tasks in public spaces, like autonomous vehicles in crowded spaces, or even UAVs when flying in civil airspace such as over urban or populated areas.

Within this general picture, the Rainbow activities will be particularly focused on the case of (shared) cooperation between robots and humans by pursuing the following vision: on the one hand, empower robots with a large degree of autonomy for allowing them to effectively operate in non-trivial environments (e.g., outside completely defined factory settings). On the other hand, include human users in the loop for having them in (partial and bilateral) control of some aspects of the overall robot behavior. We plan to address these challenges from the methodological, algorithmic and application-oriented perspectives. The main research axes along which the Rainbow activities will be articulated are: three supporting axes (Optimal and Uncertainty-Aware Sensing; Advanced Sensor-based Control; Haptics for Robotics Applications) that are meant to develop methods, algorithms and technologies for realizing the central theme of Shared Control of Complex Robotic Systems.