The VALERI project proposes the development and validation of a mobile manipulator for assisting human workers in aerospace production tasks. The current production can be characterized as having large parts stationary in a production cell, whereby multiple shifts of workers complete the assembly and inspection tasks over a period of days. In such a production environment, specialized, stationary robotic systems are not economical. The employment of mobile manipulators is a way to make the use of robots more economical, by allowing for one robot to be used for similar tasks in multiple stations.
The project begins by addressing the technical hurdles that currently impede the widespread use of mobile manipulators in production. Advances in vision technology for delivering a wide range of information relating both to external parts (e.g. inspection) as well as about the internal condition of the robot (e.g. pose information for navigation and path-planning) are necessary to achieve the project goals and will be developed in the project. The implementation of truly mobile manipulation algorithms for application in the production environment will be addressed as well. In addition, it is essential to address both the issues of safety and human-robot-interaction. Novel safety strategies and components offer a clear added-value to the mobile manipulator by empowering the human co-workers to collaborate and work directly with the mobile manipulator.
The project aims to carry out two exemplary tasks for the end-users, namely carrying out inspections on large surfaces (e.g. turbine covering elements) and applying sealant along a groove. These tasks are carried out in variations at virtually all assembly stations, so that the system will be highly productive. Viewed abstractly, these tasks involve the point-to-point positioning and movement along a path with a mobile manipulator, both of which are necessary for carrying out other tasks in all other sectors of manufacturing.