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Proceedings Paper

The VIPER project (Visualization Integration Platform for Exploration Research): a biologically inspired autonomous reconfigurable robotic platform for diverse unstructured environments
Author(s): Oliver J. Schubert; Charles R. Tolle
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Paper Abstract

Over the last decade the world has seen numerous autonomous vehicle programs. Wheels and track designs are the basis for many of these vehicles. This is primarily due to four main reasons: a vast preexisting knowledge base for these designs, energy efficiency of power sources, scalability of actuators, and the lack of control systems technologies for handling alternate highly complex distributed systems. Though large efforts seek to improve the mobility of these vehicles, many limitations still exist for these systems within unstructured environments, e.g. limited mobility within industrial and nuclear accident sites where existing plant configurations have been extensively changed. These unstructured operational environments include missions for exploration, reconnaissance, and emergency recovery of objects within reconfigured or collapsed structures, e.g. bombed buildings. More importantly, these environments present a clear and present danger for direct human interactions during the initial phases of recovery operations. Clearly, the current classes of autonomous vehicles are incapable of performing in these environments. Thus the next generation of designs must include highly reconfigurable and flexible autonomous robotic platforms. This new breed of autonomous vehicles will be both highly flexible and environmentally adaptable. Presented in this paper is one of the most successful designs from nature, the snake-eel-worm (SEW). This design implements shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators which allow for scaling of the robotic SEW designs from sub-micron scale to heavy industrial implementations without major conceptual redesigns as required in traditional hydraulic, pneumatic, or motor driven systems. Autonomous vehicles based on the SEW design posses the ability to easily move between air based environments and fluid based environments with limited or no reconfiguration. Under a SEW designed vehicle, one not only achieves vastly improved maneuverability within a highly unstructured environment, but also gains robotic manipulation abilities, normally relegated as secondary add-ons within existing vehicles, all within one small condensed package. The prototype design presented includes a Beowulf style computing system for advanced guidance calculations and visualization computations. All of the design and implementation pertaining to the SEW robot discussed in this paper is the product of a student team under the summer fellowship program at the DOEs INEEL.

Paper Details

Date Published: 2 September 2004
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 5422, Unmanned Ground Vehicle Technology VI, (2 September 2004); doi: 10.1117/12.544684
Show Author Affiliations
Oliver J. Schubert, Montana State Univ. (United States)
Charles R. Tolle, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab. (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 5422:
Unmanned Ground Vehicle Technology VI
Grant R. Gerhart; Chuck M. Shoemaker; Douglas W. Gage, Editor(s)

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