In a cold, wet week at the beginning of October, a team from Oxford Robotics Institute headed north to Blyth, near Newcastle, for the ORCA Hub demonstrations. A large warehouse, normally used for testing off-shore wind turbines, hosted teams from a number of different universities, all keen to demonstrate their advances in research in the last 12 months. The ORCA Robotics Hub is funded by the UK’s Industry Strategic Challenge Fund (ISCF) to develop industrially relevant robotics and AI for extreme environments, specifically the offshore energy domain. The trials were attended by over 50 industrial partners from across the offshore industry.
Our team had three demonstrations. An autonomous inspection mission had ANYmal follow a pre-determined route through the facility, using the on-board cameras, LIDAR and thermal cameras to survey a series of dials and targets of interest. This autonomous mission was overseen but not tele-operated from a remote base station, indicative of how such a platform might operate in a remote off-shore platform or facility.
The second demonstration showed how the system can adapt and replan when faced with unexpected change. A high level planner chose a route to an inspection target which was optimised for speed (it did this by choosing to operate in areas where the faster trotting gait was deemed appropriate). However, when this path was blocked, the robot was autonomously able to replan and take a different route while switching locomotion gaits.
The final demonstration was a proof of concept for a prototype hand-held scanner which was able to easily map the warehouse and surrounding area. It utilises the same sensors and mapping technology as the ANYmal, and could be used to provide maps for the ANYmal to operate in in future.
Overall the trials and demos ran very smoothly. The growth in the ORCA Hub in the past 12 months, as well as the excitement for all the showcased technology clearly showed the interest in these avenues of research. There is still a lot more to come from this research, and we are excited by the future!
More information about ORCA Robotics Hub: ORCAHub.org
Autonomous Replanning as a result of dynamics in the facility (a block route)
Autonomous Inspection using RGB and Thermal cameras
A map produced by the handheld sensor
Over 100 researchers were joined by 50 representatives from industry