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Remote inspection and maintenance

Comprehensive solutions for difficult remote operation tasks

Working in harsh or difficult environment implies often remote operations, and many inspection and maintenance tasks are safer by doing remotely.

It is possible to achieve tight tolerances and great accuracy when operating with the help of virtual engineering and using control systems with force feedback.

Potential application areas for remote operation include environments that are hard to access or dangerous to humans for example due to tight spaces or radiation. VTT offers comprehensive solutions for difficult remote operation tasks combining disciplines such as mechanical design, virtual reality and human-robot interaction. 

VTT can offer support for various needs in remote inspection and maintenance:

  • Calibration, real world properties
  • Object detection, recognition and location estimation
  • Remote diagnostics
  • Structural simulations
  • Mechanical design of specific features
  • Control systems'
  • Simulations of remote operations
  • Remote operation over 5G radio connection
  • Advanced requirements management and systems engineering methods

 

Accurate remote handling in challenging environments

VTT has developed maintenance robotics for the future ITER fusion reactor in close collaboration with the Big Science ITER and Fusion for Energy organization. The ITER test power plant project is a significant step towards the development of fusion energy and it offers an excellent example of a case where remote handling is used.  

VTT has used a full-scale model of the ITER fusion reactor to develop methods for the maintenance of a divertor cassette. The divertor cassette needs to be operated with the precision of millimetres, while the dimensions of the test platform are measured in metres and tons. Therefore, accurate remote handling is needed to operate heavy masses in tight spaces unreachable to humans. The result is functional, highly reliable, and in accordance to nuclear regulations. 

Specific expertise available at VTT includes: 

  • Requirement management/Engineering 
  • Mechanical system design and validation
  • Control system design
  • Virtual mock-up verification and validation 

The engineering approach is applicable to any environment, for example in the operation of heavy work machines and lifting devices, where high functional reliability of machine systems is preferred.  

 

ITER divertor area maintenance test platform
 

Support from virtual reality

In the case of robotic teleoperation, the quality and amount of information available to the operator on demand plays a significant role. In knowledge-intensive tasks performed remotely or in a hazardous environment, augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies can be the means for providing the required level of information support.  

VTT has created a digital reconstruction of a remote environment, where a user could be virtually present and control a robot by means of hand tracking and a spatial user interface (UI). The user was able to perform multiple actions:

  • Virtually enter reconstruction of remote or hazardous environments 
  • Freely walk around the robot, see the obstacles and operation targets
  • Use hands for creating, placing, and rearranging spatial user interface panels 
  • Use hands for controlling the robot

 

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        Virtual environment, operator’s avatar, and spatial UI

        A user test demonstrated that immersive VR environment can reduce amount of errors, speed up the teleoperation process, and improve the usability of the teleoperation system. 

         

        User challenges for telerobotics

        When users are required to interact remotely with the environment via a robot, the interaction is nowhere trivial. The user needs to have an accurate mental model of the situation and retain situation awareness at all times. We have studied wearable and gesture interfaces for teleoperating a robot rover and found that this type of control systems can feel natural to use and support the feeling of presence and immersion in the task. However, these interfaces may be too insensitive for accurate tasks and compromise mental and physical ergonomics if not designed and evaluated appropriately.

        VTT has expertise in tackling the user challenges from multiple perspectives and interaction modes:

        • Gesture interaction
        • Wearable interfaces
        • Multimodal interfaces
        • User experience and usability studies
        • Ergonomics and digital human models
        • User testing

         

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        VR-hyperspace

         

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        Literature:

        • Goriachev. Use of augmented and virtual reality in remote inspection and maintenance operations. University of Helsinki, 2018.
        • Aaltonen et al. Multimodality Evaluation Metrics for Human-Robot Interaction Needed: A Case Study in Immersive Telerobotics. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, 2018.
        • Aromaa et al. Digital Human Models in Human Factors and Ergonomics Evaluation of Gesture Interfaces. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 2018.

        Project reference:

        VR-Hyperspace (AAT-285681)