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Robotics, Volume 6, Issue 4 (December 2017)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle The Thorvald II Agricultural Robotic System
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 24; doi:10.3390/robotics6040024
Received: 1 September 2017 / Revised: 22 September 2017 / Accepted: 25 September 2017 / Published: 30 September 2017
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Abstract
This paper presents a novel and modular approach to agricultural robots. Food production is highly diverse in several aspects. Even farms that grow the same crops may differ in topology, infrastructure, production method, and so on. Modular robots help us adapt to this
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This paper presents a novel and modular approach to agricultural robots. Food production is highly diverse in several aspects. Even farms that grow the same crops may differ in topology, infrastructure, production method, and so on. Modular robots help us adapt to this diversity, as they can quickly be configured for various farm environments. The robots presented in this paper are hardware modular in the sense that they can be reconfigured to obtain the necessary physical properties to operate in different production systems—such as tunnels, greenhouses and open fields—and their mechanical properties can be adapted to adjust for track width, power requirements, ground clearance, load capacity, and so on. The robot’s software is generalizing to work with the great variation of robot designs that can be realized by assembling hardware modules in different configurations. The paper presents several novel ideas for agricultural robotics, as well as extensive field trials of several different versions of the Thorvald II platform. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agriculture Robotics)
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Open AccessArticle A Novel Docking System for Modular Self-Reconfigurable Robots
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 25; doi:10.3390/robotics6040025
Received: 2 September 2017 / Revised: 3 October 2017 / Accepted: 9 October 2017 / Published: 10 October 2017
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Abstract
Existing self-reconfigurable robots achieve connections and disconnections by a separate drive of the docking system. In this paper, we present a new docking system with which the connections and disconnections are driven by locomotion actuators, without the need for a separate drive, which
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Existing self-reconfigurable robots achieve connections and disconnections by a separate drive of the docking system. In this paper, we present a new docking system with which the connections and disconnections are driven by locomotion actuators, without the need for a separate drive, which reduces the weight and the complexity of the modules. This self-reconfigurable robot consists of two types of fundamental modules, i.e., active and passive modules. By the docking system, two types of connections are formed with the fundamental modules, and the docking and undocking actions are achieved through simple control with less sensory feedback. This paper describes the design of the robotic modules, the docking system, the docking process, and the docking force analysis. An experiment is performed to demonstrate the self-reconfigurable robot with the docking system. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Robust and Resilient Robots)
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Open AccessArticle Design of a Mobile Robot for Air Ducts Exploration
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 26; doi:10.3390/robotics6040026
Received: 3 July 2017 / Revised: 25 September 2017 / Accepted: 9 October 2017 / Published: 11 October 2017
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Abstract
This work presents the solutions adopted for the design and the implementation of an autonomous wheeled robot developed for the exploration and mapping of air ventilation ducts. The hardware is based on commercial off-the-shelf devices, including sensors, motors, processing devices and interfaces. The
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This work presents the solutions adopted for the design and the implementation of an autonomous wheeled robot developed for the exploration and mapping of air ventilation ducts. The hardware is based on commercial off-the-shelf devices, including sensors, motors, processing devices and interfaces. The mechanical chassis was designed from scratch to meet a trade-off between small size and available volume to host the components. The software stack is based on the Robot Operating System (ROS). Special attention was dedicated to the design of the mobility strategy, which must take into account some constraints and issues that are specific to the considered application, such as the relatively small size of ducts, the need to detect and avoid possible holes on the floor of the duct and other unusual obstacles and the unavailability of external reference frameworks for localization. The main contribution of this paper lies in the design, implementation and experimentation of the overall system. Full article
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Open AccessArticle HexaMob—A Hybrid Modular Robotic Design for Implementing Biomimetic Structures
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 27; doi:10.3390/robotics6040027
Received: 27 July 2017 / Revised: 11 October 2017 / Accepted: 11 October 2017 / Published: 16 October 2017
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Abstract
Modular robots are capable of forming primitive shapes such as lattice and chain structures with the additional flexibility of distributed sensing. The biomimetic structures developed using such modular units provides ease of replacement and reconfiguration in co-ordinated structures, transportation etc. in real life
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Modular robots are capable of forming primitive shapes such as lattice and chain structures with the additional flexibility of distributed sensing. The biomimetic structures developed using such modular units provides ease of replacement and reconfiguration in co-ordinated structures, transportation etc. in real life scenarios. Though the research in the employment of modular robotic units in formation of biological organisms is in the nascent stage, modular robotic units are already capable of forming such sophisticated structures. The modular robotic designs proposed so far in modular robotics research vary significantly in external structures, sensor-actuator mechanisms interfaces for docking and undocking, techniques for providing mobility, coordinated structures, locomotions etc. and each robotic design attempted to address various challenges faced in the domain of modular robotics by employing different strategies. This paper presents a novel modular wheeled robotic design - HexaMob facilitating four degrees of freedom (2 degrees for mobility and 2 degrees for structural reconfiguration) on a single module with minimal usage of sensor-actuator assemblies. The crucial features of modular robotics such as back-driving restriction, docking, and navigation are addressed in the process of HexaMob design. The proposed docking mechanism is enabled using vision sensor, enhancing the capabilities in docking as well as navigation in co-ordinated structures such as humanoid robots. Full article
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Open AccessArticle A High-Fidelity Energy Efficient Path Planner for Unmanned Airships
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 28; doi:10.3390/robotics6040028
Received: 25 August 2017 / Revised: 25 September 2017 / Accepted: 9 October 2017 / Published: 18 October 2017
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Abstract
This paper presents a comparative study on the effects of grid resolution, vehicle velocity, and wind vector fields on the trajectory planning of unmanned airships. A wavefront expansion trajectory planner that minimizes a multi-objective cost function consisting of flight time, energy consumption, and
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This paper presents a comparative study on the effects of grid resolution, vehicle velocity, and wind vector fields on the trajectory planning of unmanned airships. A wavefront expansion trajectory planner that minimizes a multi-objective cost function consisting of flight time, energy consumption, and collision avoidance while respecting the differential constraints of the vehicle is presented. Trajectories are generated using a variety of test environments and flight conditions to demonstrate that the inclusion of a high terrain map resolution, a temporal vehicle velocity, and a spatial wind vector field yields significant improvements in trajectory feasibility and energy economy when compared to trajectories generated using only two of these three elements. Full article
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Open AccessArticle A Node-Based Method for SLAM Navigation in Self-Similar Underwater Environments: A Case Study
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 29; doi:10.3390/robotics6040029
Received: 30 June 2017 / Revised: 19 October 2017 / Accepted: 20 October 2017 / Published: 31 October 2017
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Abstract
This work deals with the development of a node-based monocular visual methodology for autonomous vehicle navigation which has the goal of exploring unknown regions of the sea bottom with a posterior safe revisiting of them. The work accentuates characteristics of the seabed like
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This work deals with the development of a node-based monocular visual methodology for autonomous vehicle navigation which has the goal of exploring unknown regions of the sea bottom with a posterior safe revisiting of them. The work accentuates characteristics of the seabed like self-similarity and backscattering. In a stepwise fashion, a visual guidance system constructs a shape similar to a narrow corridor by optimally creating a heading function on the basis of keypoints threads, which ensures future revisits. The corridor is composed of nodes and paths in between. Each path is composed of a visual-odometry-based trail which is generated in feature-poor environments, in combination with a feature-based trail which emerges in feature-rich regions. A probabilistic analysis of the uncertainties and their impact in the success rate on loop closings is carried out. We work out two case studies, the first employing an ad-hoc benchmark and the second a series of experiments in the real world. From here qualitative conclusions can be drawn out that enable us to anticipate potential applications of the approach in the field of autonomous navigation underwater. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Optimization of the Kinematic Model for Biomimetic Robotic Fish with Rigid Headshaking Mitigation
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 30; doi:10.3390/robotics6040030
Received: 20 September 2017 / Revised: 20 October 2017 / Accepted: 25 October 2017 / Published: 27 October 2017
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Abstract
Biomimetic robotic fish is a new type of underwater robot with many superior characteristics such as high movement speed, high motion efficiency, high energy efficiency, and so on. However, the traditional kinematic model for biomimetic robotic fish has many shortcomings which limit their
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Biomimetic robotic fish is a new type of underwater robot with many superior characteristics such as high movement speed, high motion efficiency, high energy efficiency, and so on. However, the traditional kinematic model for biomimetic robotic fish has many shortcomings which limit their movement speed, such as the rigid shakes of the fish’s head when it swims, which is caused by neglecting the influences of manufacturing process on the model. In order to mitigate the rigid headshaking, a revised kinematic model is proposed by introducing an offset of the joints rotation center. The proposed kinematic equations are well simulated in a MATLAB environment, and the numerical results illustrate the advantage of the new kinematic model. Finally, experimental results generated from a three-joint biomimetic robotic fish with the proposed model show that the fish’s head shaking is effectively restrained, and therefore the swimming speed is significantly improved. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Automated Detection of Branch Shaking Locations for Robotic Cherry Harvesting Using Machine Vision
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 31; doi:10.3390/robotics6040031
Received: 31 August 2017 / Revised: 9 October 2017 / Accepted: 26 October 2017 / Published: 28 October 2017
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Abstract
Automation in cherry harvesting is essential to reduce the demand for seasonal labor for cherry picking and reduce the cost of production. The mechanical shaking of tree branches is one of the widely studied and used techniques for harvesting small tree fruit crops
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Automation in cherry harvesting is essential to reduce the demand for seasonal labor for cherry picking and reduce the cost of production. The mechanical shaking of tree branches is one of the widely studied and used techniques for harvesting small tree fruit crops like cherries. To automate the branch shaking operation, different methods of detecting branches and cherries in full foliage canopies of the cherry tree have been developed previously. The next step in this process is the localization of shaking positions in the detected tree branches for mechanical shaking. In this study, a method of locating shaking positions for automated cherry harvesting was developed based on branch and cherry pixel locations determined using RGB images and 3D camera images. First, branch and cherry regions were located in 2D RGB images. Depth information provided by a 3D camera was then mapped on to the RGB images using a standard stereo calibration method. The overall root mean square error in estimating the distance to desired shaking points was 0.064 m. Cherry trees trained in two different canopy architectures, Y-trellis and vertical trellis systems, were used in this study. Harvesting testing was carried out by shaking tree branches at the locations selected by the algorithm. For the Y-trellis system, the maximum fruit removal efficiency of 92.9% was achieved using up to five shaking events per branch. However, maximum fruit removal efficiency for the vertical trellis system was 86.6% with up to four shakings per branch. However, it was found that only three shakings per branch would achieve a fruit removal percentage of 92.3% and 86.4% in Y and vertical trellis systems respectively. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Agriculture Robotics)
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Open AccessArticle Visual Tilt Estimation for Planar-Motion Methods in Indoor Mobile Robots
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 32; doi:10.3390/robotics6040032
Received: 22 September 2017 / Revised: 27 October 2017 / Accepted: 28 October 2017 / Published: 31 October 2017
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Abstract
Visual methods have many applications in mobile robotics problems, such as localization, navigation, and mapping. Some methods require that the robot moves in a plane without tilting. This planar-motion assumption simplifies the problem, and can lead to improved results. However, tilting the robot
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Visual methods have many applications in mobile robotics problems, such as localization, navigation, and mapping. Some methods require that the robot moves in a plane without tilting. This planar-motion assumption simplifies the problem, and can lead to improved results. However, tilting the robot violates this assumption, and may cause planar-motion methods to fail. Such a tilt should therefore be corrected. In this work, we estimate a robot’s tilt relative to a ground plane from individual panoramic images. This estimate is based on the vanishing point of vertical elements, which commonly occur in indoor environments. We test the quality of two methods on images from several environments: An image-space method exploits several approximations to detect the vanishing point in a panoramic fisheye image. The vector-consensus method uses a calibrated camera model to solve the tilt-estimation problem in 3D space. In addition, we measure the time required on desktop and embedded systems. We previously studied visual pose-estimation for a domestic robot, including the effect of tilts. We use these earlier results to establish meaningful standards for the estimation error and time. Overall, we find the methods to be accurate and fast enough for real-time use on embedded systems. However, the tilt-estimation error increases markedly in environments containing relatively few vertical edges. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Adaptive Kalman Filter Applied to Vision Based Head Gesture Tracking for Playing Video Games
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 33; doi:10.3390/robotics6040033
Received: 30 August 2017 / Revised: 13 November 2017 / Accepted: 13 November 2017 / Published: 27 November 2017
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Abstract
This paper proposes an adaptive Kalman filter (AKF) to improve the performance of a vision-based human machine interface (HMI) applied to a video game. The HMI identifies head gestures and decodes them into corresponding commands. Face detection and feature tracking algorithms are used
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This paper proposes an adaptive Kalman filter (AKF) to improve the performance of a vision-based human machine interface (HMI) applied to a video game. The HMI identifies head gestures and decodes them into corresponding commands. Face detection and feature tracking algorithms are used to detect optical flow produced by head gestures. Such approaches often fail due to changes in head posture, occlusion and varying illumination. The adaptive Kalman filter is applied to estimate motion information and reduce the effect of missing frames in a real-time application. Failure in head gesture tracking eventually leads to malfunctioning game control, reducing the scores achieved, so the performance of the proposed vision-based HMI is examined using a game scoring mechanism. The experimental results show that the proposed interface has a good response time, and the adaptive Kalman filter improves the game scores by ten percent. Full article
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Open AccessCommunication Propulsion-Based Soft Robotic Actuation
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 34; doi:10.3390/robotics6040034
Received: 28 September 2017 / Revised: 18 November 2017 / Accepted: 23 November 2017 / Published: 24 November 2017
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Abstract
The use of air propulsion to drive limb motion in soft robotics has been a largely untapped field even though the technology has been around since the 1700s. Air propulsion can generate greater degrees of motion in limb actuators compared to widely-experimented pneumatic
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The use of air propulsion to drive limb motion in soft robotics has been a largely untapped field even though the technology has been around since the 1700s. Air propulsion can generate greater degrees of motion in limb actuators compared to widely-experimented pneumatic actuators operating on expandable air channels, which are limited by air pressure input, minimum size and cyclic fatigue. To demonstrate the application of air propulsion in soft robotics motion, we developed a 3D-printed, tri-pedal, soft, air-driven robot that can perform biomimetic motions such as flexion and extension of limbs, crawling, rotation, grasping, kicking and picking of objects. To accomplish air-propelled actuation, milli-scale channels are incorporated throughout each limb that guides the pressurized air inflow to outlets of different directions. A Finite Element Model (FEM) approach to simulate the bending response of the limb due to varying pressure is proposed and evaluated. This study introduces the potential of using air propulsion as an alternate form of soft body actuation for longer cyclic lifespan and increased maximum air pressure input. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Human-Like Room Segmentation for Domestic Cleaning Robots
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 35; doi:10.3390/robotics6040035
Received: 20 October 2017 / Revised: 22 November 2017 / Accepted: 23 November 2017 / Published: 26 November 2017
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Abstract
Autonomous mobile robots have recently become a popular solution for automating cleaning tasks. In one application, the robot cleans a floor space by traversing and covering it completely. While fulfilling its task, such a robot may create a map of its surroundings. For
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Autonomous mobile robots have recently become a popular solution for automating cleaning tasks. In one application, the robot cleans a floor space by traversing and covering it completely. While fulfilling its task, such a robot may create a map of its surroundings. For domestic indoor environments, these maps often consist of rooms connected by passageways. Segmenting the map into these rooms has several uses, such as hierarchical planning of cleaning runs by the robot, or the definition of cleaning plans by the user. Especially in the latter application, the robot-generated room segmentation should match the human understanding of rooms. Here, we present a novel method that solves this problem for the graph of a topo-metric map: first, a classifier identifies those graph edges that cross a border between rooms. This classifier utilizes data from multiple robot sensors, such as obstacle measurements and camera images. Next, we attempt to segment the map at these room–border edges using graph clustering. By training the classifier on user-annotated data, this produces a human-like room segmentation. We optimize and test our method on numerous realistic maps generated by our cleaning-robot prototype and its simulated version. Overall, we find that our method produces more human-like room segmentations compared to mere graph clustering. However, unusual room borders that differ from the training data remain a challenge. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Convolutional Neural Network based Estimation of Gel-like Food Texture by a Robotic Sensing System
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 37; doi:10.3390/robotics6040037
Received: 31 October 2017 / Revised: 24 November 2017 / Accepted: 29 November 2017 / Published: 1 December 2017
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Abstract
This paper presents a robotic sensing system that evaluates the texture of gel-like food, in which not only mechanical characteristics, but also geometrical characteristics of the texture are objectively and quantitatively evaluated. When a human chews a gel-like food, the person perceives the
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This paper presents a robotic sensing system that evaluates the texture of gel-like food, in which not only mechanical characteristics, but also geometrical characteristics of the texture are objectively and quantitatively evaluated. When a human chews a gel-like food, the person perceives the changes in the shape and contact force simultaneously on the tongue. Based on their impression, they evaluate the texture. To reproduce this procedure using a simple artificial mastication robot, the pressure distribution of the gel-like food is measured, and the information associated with both the geometrical and mechanical characteristics is simultaneously acquired. The relationship between the value of the human sensory evaluation of the texture and the pressure distribution image is then modeled by applying a convolutional neural network. Experimental results show that the proposed system succeeds in estimating the values of a human sensory evaluation for 23 types of gel-like food with a coefficient of determination greater than 0.92. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Cloud-Edge Suppression for Visual Outdoor Navigation
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 38; doi:10.3390/robotics6040038
Received: 25 September 2017 / Revised: 22 November 2017 / Accepted: 27 November 2017 / Published: 3 December 2017
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Abstract
Outdoor environments pose multiple challenges for the visual navigation of robots, like changing illumination conditions, seasonal changes, dynamic environments and non-planar terrain. Illumination changes are mostly caused by the movement of the Sun and by changing cloud cover. Moving clouds themselves also are
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Outdoor environments pose multiple challenges for the visual navigation of robots, like changing illumination conditions, seasonal changes, dynamic environments and non-planar terrain. Illumination changes are mostly caused by the movement of the Sun and by changing cloud cover. Moving clouds themselves also are a dynamic aspect of a visual scene. For visual homing algorithms, which compute the direction to a previously visited place by comparing the current view with a snapshot taken at that place, in particular, the changing cloud cover poses a problem, since cloud movements do not correspond to movements of the camera and thus constitute misleading information. We propose an edge-filtering method operating on linearly-transformed RGB channels, which reliably detects edges in the ground region of the image while suppressing edges in the sky region. To fulfill this criterion, the factors for the linear transformation of the RGB channels are optimized systematically concerning this special requirement. Furthermore, we test the proposed linear transformation on an existing visual homing algorithm (MinWarping) and show that the performance of the visual homing method is significantly improved compared to the use of edge-filtering methods on alternative color information. Full article
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Review

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Open AccessReview Resilient Robots: Concept, Review, and Future Directions
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 22; doi:10.3390/robotics6040022
Received: 12 August 2017 / Revised: 17 September 2017 / Accepted: 18 September 2017 / Published: 25 September 2017
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Abstract
This paper reviews recent developments in the emerging field of resilient robots and the related robots that share common concerns with them, such as self-reconfigurable robots. This paper addresses the identity of the resilient robots by distinguishing the concept of resilience from other
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This paper reviews recent developments in the emerging field of resilient robots and the related robots that share common concerns with them, such as self-reconfigurable robots. This paper addresses the identity of the resilient robots by distinguishing the concept of resilience from other similar concepts and summarizes the strategies used by robots to recover their original function. By illustrating some issues of current resilient robots in the design of control systems, physical architecture modules, and physical connection systems, this paper shows several of the possible solutions to facilitate the development of the new and improved robots with higher resilience. The conclusion outlines several directions for the future of this field. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Robust and Resilient Robots)
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Open AccessReview On the Development of Learning Control for Robotic Manipulators
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 23; doi:10.3390/robotics6040023
Received: 19 July 2017 / Revised: 18 September 2017 / Accepted: 24 September 2017 / Published: 27 September 2017
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Abstract
Learning control for robotic manipulators has been developed over the past decade and to the best of the authors’ knowledge, it is still in its infant development stage; the authors believe that it will become one of the most promising directions in the
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Learning control for robotic manipulators has been developed over the past decade and to the best of the authors’ knowledge, it is still in its infant development stage; the authors believe that it will become one of the most promising directions in the control area in robotic manipulators. Learning control in robotic manipulators is mainly used to address the issue that the friction at the joints of robotic mechanisms and other uncertainties may exist in the dynamic models, which are very complex and may even be impossible to model mathematically. In this paper, the authors review and discuss the learning control in robotic manipulators and some issues in learning control for robotic manipulators are also illustrated. This review is able to give a general guideline for future research in learning control for robotic manipulators. Full article
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Open AccessReview Advances in the Inspection of Unpiggable Pipelines
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 36; doi:10.3390/robotics6040036
Received: 2 October 2017 / Revised: 18 November 2017 / Accepted: 23 November 2017 / Published: 29 November 2017
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Abstract
The field of in-pipe robotics covers a vast and varied number of approaches to the inspection of pipelines with robots specialising in pipes ranging anywhere from 10 mm to 1200 mm in diameter. Many of these developed systems focus on overcoming in-pipe obstacles
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The field of in-pipe robotics covers a vast and varied number of approaches to the inspection of pipelines with robots specialising in pipes ranging anywhere from 10 mm to 1200 mm in diameter. Many of these developed systems focus on overcoming in-pipe obstacles such as T-sections and elbows, as a result important aspects of exploration are treated as sub-systems, namely shape adaptability. One of the most prevalent methods of hybridised locomotion today is wall-pressing; generating traction using the encompassing pipe walls. A review of wall-pressing systems has been performed, covering the different approaches taken since their introduction. The advantages and disadvantages of these systems is discussed as well as their effectiveness in the inspection of networks with highly varying pipe diameters. When compared to unconventional in-pipe robotic techniques, traditional full-bore wall-pressing robots were found to be at a disadvantage. Full article
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Open AccessReview A Review on Energy-Saving Optimization Methods for Robotic and Automatic Systems
Robotics 2017, 6(4), 39; doi:10.3390/robotics6040039
Received: 20 October 2017 / Revised: 30 November 2017 / Accepted: 4 December 2017 / Published: 7 December 2017
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Abstract
In the last decades, increasing energy prices and growing environmental awareness have driven engineers and scientists to find new solutions for reducing energy consumption in manufacturing. Although many processes of a high energy consumption (e.g., chemical, heating, etc.) are considered to have reached
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In the last decades, increasing energy prices and growing environmental awareness have driven engineers and scientists to find new solutions for reducing energy consumption in manufacturing. Although many processes of a high energy consumption (e.g., chemical, heating, etc.) are considered to have reached high levels of efficiency, this is not the case for many other industrial manufacturing activities. Indeed, this is the case for robotic and automatic systems, for which, in the past, the minimization of energy demand was not considered a design objective. The proper design and operation of industrial robots and automation systems represent a great opportunity for reducing energy consumption in the industry, for example, by the substitution with more efficient systems and the energy optimization of operation. This review paper classifies and analyses several methodologies and technologies that have been developed with the aim of providing a reference of existing methods, techniques and technologies for enhancing the energy performance of industrial robotic and mechatronic systems. Hardware and software methods, including several subcategories, are considered and compared, and emerging ideas and possible future perspectives are discussed. Full article
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