Research Project

Campus Autonomous Robot Tours (CART)

Motivation/Research Problem
Autonomous unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) are used in missions ranging from industrial inspection to terrestrial and space exploration. A UGV can be deployed as an independent unit to perform a mission or operate alongside other UGVs as part of a robot team to benefit from multiple robots working together to complete a cooperative task. A UGV capable of carrying a payload containing a multitude of sensor, data processing, and communications equipment can serve as a primary rover hub for long range exploratory missions within a robot or human-robot team. A UGV equipped with teleoperation, autonomous obstacle avoidance and satellite-aided navigation can operate in dynamic environments while providing perception sensor data to a base station for remote operation with human oversight. One example of a UGV system is the Campus Autonomous Robot Tours (CART) project which is focused on developing a system to deliver remote virtual campus tours to visitors through the eyes of a robotic rover.
Research Team

Collaborator:

  • Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi, JPL collaborator

Faculty:

  • Amiel Hartman, Mechanical Engineering
  • Nhut Ho, Mechanical Engineering
  • Ashley Geng, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Li Liu, Computer Science
  • Joe Bautista, Art + Design

Student Team

  • M. Fadhil Ginting
  • Coulson Aquirre
  • Kyle Strickland
  • CART student team, from Systems Engineering Research Laboratory (SERL) senior design projects and ME 486 senior design course
Alignment, Engagement and Contributions to the priorities of NASA’s Mission Directorates
JPL team CoSTAR uses the NeBula autonomy solution on wheeled and legged UGVs to participate in the DARPA subterrain (SubT) challenge for research tasks aligned with robot teaming and exploration on NASA space missions. In collaboration with JPL, the CART project aims to develop a UGV system that can showcase robotics technology to the university community by providing interactive tours of the campus and serve a research platform for autonomy assisted teleoperation. Dense urban environments are challenging scenarios for wireless communication in the absence of a network infrastructure and can suffer from latency or bandwidth limitations. However, live data streaming to a ground control station for display and teleoperation is desirable for an interactive tour guide system. UGV missions in dynamic environments with pedestrians requires autonomous obstacle avoidance and fault tolerant safety systems to avoid undesirable collisions.
Research Questions and Research Objectives
How do we use a robot platform to create a live, interactive, virtual tour that is engaging for visitors to the university and ARCS? How do we integrate the robot tour guide system into the existing infrastructure for tours at the university? How do we integrate the interactive tour display into the ARCS gallery space to showcase robotics technology? How do we safely implement teleoperation with autonomy in an urban environment?

The goal of the CART project research is to develop a primary rover asset that will be used to deliver remote interactive tours of the university campus to visitors from a gallery space. The rover and tour guide system will be designed with the following capabilities in mind:

  • Present participants with an interactive remote tour of the university from a gallery space where they are provided with data from the UGV sensors and information about the university as the UGV travels to different locations on campus.
  • Automate UGV mission tasks to reduce control interface complexity and operator load so the system can be controlled by a trained operator using simplified navigation commands.
  • Monitor communications for teleoperation and recover from intermittent control commands or inertial navigation data.
  • Notify operator of system fault and execute emergency stop on operator command.
Research Methods
Collaboration with JPL team CoSTAR will help to define use case scenarios, sensor payloads, and autonomy operation requirements for UGV development in addition to the tour guide robot concept. The dense urban environment of the university campus provides a field of operation for mission testing and deployment. Robot operating system (ROS) will be used to develop UGV software and autonomy. An electronics payload for perception, navigation, and communications will be developed by integrating commercially available sensors into a design tailored for the tour guide mission requirements. Commercially available UGV chassis base platforms will be explored for testing software and autonomy to accelerate development time to rover deployment. A custom designed UGV chassis could be developed in the future to accommodate the specific environment and operating requirements of the mission.

To further accelerate the development process, simulation software will be used to test the autonomy performance of the robot model in a virtual university campus environment. The simulation could be integrated into the visitor display to enhance the interactive campus tour. Simplified waypoint navigation will be integrated into the ground control system to minimize operator load for UGV control, thereby allowing visitors or university tour guide ambassadors to have partial control of the system during operation, separate from an engineer/operator. Emergency stop capabilities will be integrated into the UGV and ground control safety systems for pedestrian and environment collision avoidance.

Research Deliverables and Products
The anticipated deliverable is to have a system comprised of an unmanned ground vehicle with autonomous obstacle avoidance and a ground control computer for teleoperation with waypoint navigation used to demonstrate a tour of the university campus. One paper for publication is in process to disuses the unique challenges of system design for autonomous outdoor tour guide robot development and operation.
Anticipated deliverables

  • UGV equipped with electronics payload and robot operating system (ROS) software autonomy for mission operation.
  • Simulation of robot operation in representative virtual environment.
  • Integration of camera and LiDAR sensors for environment mapping and obstacle avoidance.
  • Integration of satellite augmented inertial navigation system for robot localization and waypoint navigation.
  • Teleoperation of UGV from ground control computer with emergency stop capability.
  • Display integrated into the ARCS gallery space as part of the ground control system for visitor interaction.
Research Timeline
June – August 2020 —

  • Develop concept of operations.
  • Determine preliminary system requirements.
  • Determine preliminary hardware and software system components.

September – December 2020—

  • Detailed analysis of system requirements, hardware components, and software components.
  • Unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) chassis analysis and selection.
  • Mechanical design of electronics payload for sensing and communications.
  • Electrical design for power distribution and wireless emergency stop integration.
  • Robot operating system (ROS) software simulation development.
  • Integration of navigation, obstacle avoidance and mapping software into simulation.

January – August 2021—

  • Integration of navigation, obstacle avoidance and mapping software into simulation.
  • Performance testing and evaluation of UGV operation in simulation environment.
  • Camera and LiDAR sensor testing.
  • Assembly and integration of electronics payload on UGV.
  • Integration and testing of control software on UGV and base station computer.

May – August 2021

  • Field test of UGV operation for teleoperation, autonomous navigation and obstacle avoidance.
  • Demonstration of tour guide robot operation.
  • System performance evaluation.
  • Integrate base station computer into gallery space display.
  • Determine next steps for project development including enhanced UGV capabilities and
    expanded ARCS gallery space interactive display.
Are there other activities (e.g., proposals or additional projects) that you have developed or anticipate based on your NASA ARCS project?
The ARCS CART project is directly integrated into the Systems Engineering Research Laboratory (SERL) senior design projects along with the ARCS CAESERR project. Therefore, it is anticipated that the rovers developed out of the research on these projects could be integrated into a single robot teaming system for applications in campus tours or search and rescue. Furthermore, it is anticipated that SERL research in ground control stations could be used to improve the ground control system for CART at the ARCS gallery space or to develop additional ground control stations.

Impact of Project Partnership with NASA:

Partnership with NASA JPL has helped with research efforts at CSUN for developing and testing CAESARR for search and rescue applications. Sharing design information on the JPL PUFFER (Pop-Up Flat-Folding Explorer Robot) for planetary exploration on NASA space missions, has helped to enhance rover development. Partnership with JPL has also exposed me to additional research opportunities and collaboration with JPL researchers. These opportunities have led to the start of the CART project at ARCS and additional fellows participating in joint research projects with JPL. Additionally, the partnership has enhanced research collaboration at CSUN with senior design students by integrating the CART project into the senior design course with CAESARR.