US20130211594A1 - Proxy Robots and Remote Environment Simulator for Their Human Handlers - Google Patents

Proxy Robots and Remote Environment Simulator for Their Human Handlers Download PDF

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US20130211594A1
US20130211594A1 US13/593,518 US201213593518A US2013211594A1 US 20130211594 A1 US20130211594 A1 US 20130211594A1 US 201213593518 A US201213593518 A US 201213593518A US 2013211594 A1 US2013211594 A1 US 2013211594A1
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handler
human
system
proxy robot
proxy
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Abandoned
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US13/593,518
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Kenneth Dean Stephens, Jr.
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Kenneth Dean Stephens, Jr.
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Priority to US201261599204P priority Critical
Priority to US201261613935P priority
Application filed by Kenneth Dean Stephens, Jr. filed Critical Kenneth Dean Stephens, Jr.
Priority to US13/593,518 priority patent/US20130211594A1/en
Publication of US20130211594A1 publication Critical patent/US20130211594A1/en
Priority claimed from US15/384,321 external-priority patent/US9975248B2/en
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    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B25HAND TOOLS; PORTABLE POWER-DRIVEN TOOLS; MANIPULATORS
    • B25JMANIPULATORS; CHAMBERS PROVIDED WITH MANIPULATION DEVICES
    • B25J9/00Programme-controlled manipulators
    • B25J9/16Programme controls
    • B25J9/1679Programme controls characterised by the tasks executed
    • B25J9/1689Teleoperation
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B25HAND TOOLS; PORTABLE POWER-DRIVEN TOOLS; MANIPULATORS
    • B25JMANIPULATORS; CHAMBERS PROVIDED WITH MANIPULATION DEVICES
    • B25J11/00Manipulators not otherwise provided for
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B25HAND TOOLS; PORTABLE POWER-DRIVEN TOOLS; MANIPULATORS
    • B25JMANIPULATORS; CHAMBERS PROVIDED WITH MANIPULATION DEVICES
    • B25J3/00Manipulators of master-slave type, i.e. both controlling unit and controlled unit perform corresponding spatial movements
    • B25J3/04Manipulators of master-slave type, i.e. both controlling unit and controlled unit perform corresponding spatial movements involving servo mechanisms
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B64AIRCRAFT; AVIATION; COSMONAUTICS
    • B64GCOSMONAUTICS; VEHICLES OR EQUIPMENT THEREFOR
    • B64G4/00Tools specially adapted for use in space
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06NCOMPUTER SYSTEMS BASED ON SPECIFIC COMPUTATIONAL MODELS
    • G06N3/00Computer systems based on biological models
    • G06N3/004Artificial life, i.e. computers simulating life
    • G06N3/008Artificial life, i.e. computers simulating life based on physical entities controlled by simulated intelligence so as to replicate intelligent life forms, e.g. robots replicating pets or humans in their appearance or behavior
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B64AIRCRAFT; AVIATION; COSMONAUTICS
    • B64GCOSMONAUTICS; VEHICLES OR EQUIPMENT THEREFOR
    • B64G1/00Cosmonautic vehicles
    • B64G1/10Artificial satellites; Systems of such satellites; Interplanetary vehicles
    • B64G1/105Space science
    • B64G2001/1064Space science specifically adapted for interplanetary, solar or interstellar exploration
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B64AIRCRAFT; AVIATION; COSMONAUTICS
    • B64GCOSMONAUTICS; VEHICLES OR EQUIPMENT THEREFOR
    • B64G4/00Tools specially adapted for use in space
    • B64G2004/005Robotic manipulator systems for use in space
    • GPHYSICS
    • G05CONTROLLING; REGULATING
    • G05BCONTROL OR REGULATING SYSTEMS IN GENERAL; FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS OF SUCH SYSTEMS; MONITORING OR TESTING ARRANGEMENTS FOR SUCH SYSTEMS OR ELEMENTS
    • G05B2219/00Program-control systems
    • G05B2219/30Nc systems
    • G05B2219/40Robotics, robotics mapping to robotics vision
    • G05B2219/40116Learn by operator observation, symbiosis, show, watch
    • GPHYSICS
    • G05CONTROLLING; REGULATING
    • G05BCONTROL OR REGULATING SYSTEMS IN GENERAL; FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS OF SUCH SYSTEMS; MONITORING OR TESTING ARRANGEMENTS FOR SUCH SYSTEMS OR ELEMENTS
    • G05B2219/00Program-control systems
    • G05B2219/30Nc systems
    • G05B2219/40Robotics, robotics mapping to robotics vision
    • G05B2219/40191Autonomous manipulation, computer assists operator during manipulation
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06NCOMPUTER SYSTEMS BASED ON SPECIFIC COMPUTATIONAL MODELS
    • G06N3/00Computer systems based on biological models
    • G06N3/004Artificial life, i.e. computers simulating life

Abstract

A system for controlling a human-controlled proxy robot surrogate is presented. The system includes a plurality of motion capture sensors for monitoring and capturing all movements of a human handler such that each change in joint angle, body posture or position; wherein the motion capture sensors are similar in operation to sensors utilized in motion picture animation, suitably modified to track critical handler movements in near real time. A plurality of controls attached to the proxy robot surrogate is also presented that relays the monitored and captured movements of the human handler as “follow me” data to the proxy robot surrogate in which the plurality of controls are configured such that the proxy robot surrogate emulates the movements of the human handler.

Description

    CLAIM OF PRIORITY
  • The present invention claims priority to Provisional U.S. Patent Application No. 61,599,204 filed on Feb. 15, 2012, entitled “Space Exploration with Human Proxy Robots;” Provisional U.S. Patent Application No. 61,613,935 filed on Mar. 21, 2012, entitled “Remote Environment Simulator for Human Proxy Robot Handlers;” and co-pending non-provisional U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/479,128 filed on May 23, 2012. The application to follow has basis in all of the earlier filings, with special emphasis on the creation of an environment for a human handler reflecting as closely as possible the remote environment of the handler's proxy robot.
  • FIELD OF THE INVENTION
  • The present claimed invention generally relates to robotics. More specifically the present invention relates to human proxy robot systems.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • While the content herein is applicable to robots with some or even a great deal of autonomy as taught in the previous application, it is particularly pertinent to cases where the robot is largely devoid of artificial intelligence (AI), essentially representing an extension of the human handler.
  • Put another way, this specification is about human telepresence in space, and especially in such near-space locations as the earth's moon. During his or her turn in control of a given proxy robot, the human handler sees and feels and acts through the “person” of that robot: guiding the proxy in exploring; mining; doing science experiments; constructing; observing the earth, planets or stars; launching spaceships to further destinations; rescuing other robots or humans; or simply enjoying an earthrise over the moon's horizon.
  • In the prior art are several patents dealing with omni-directional and spherical treadmills, all involving simulated virtual reality (VR) generated by a computer program as opposed to the simulation of the actual environment being experienced by a proxy robot in its remote environment as taught in the present invention. Carmein U.S. Pat. No. 5,562,572 discloses ways to make an omni directional treadmill for VR and other purposes, but the methods and apparatus employed do not anticipate the specification to follow. Nor are his treadmill designs very stable, with the human constrained by balance cuffs, support struts, hand grips and the like just to stay upright.
  • Carmein '572 also makes brief mention of how the omni-directional treadmill of his invention may be utilized in telepresence in a one-paragraph description of FIG. 18 (FIG. 39 in C.I.P. '256 below), but fails to claim or adequately teach how a human can be productively linked in practice to a robot in some remote location. In the present specification and a companion application pertaining to handler environment simulation, prior art weaknesses, defects and “science fiction” will be overcome as methods and apparatus for a complete human handler-proxy robot system are disclosed.
  • Latypov U.S. Pat. No. 5,846,134 features a spherical shell inside of which a human walks in treadmill fashion, but this concept is quite distinct from the spherical treadmill disclosed in the current application, where the human handler of a proxy robot stands and moves on the top exterior of a sphere with diameter sufficiently large (typically 30 feet in diameter) that the handler, to all intents and purposes, is moving on a flat surface if that is the remote terrain being simulated.
  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,980,256, also by Carmein, is a continuation-in-part of '572 above and U.S. Pat. No. 5,490,784. The latter pertains to spherical capsules within which humans can walk (albeit uphill) in any direction, but does not apply to the present invention. The circular form in Carmein's ('256) FIG. 23 does not denote a turntable, but rather defines a circular track unlike the current invention. While Carmein's FIG. 37 and description are somewhat akin to the motion simulator in the current specification's FIG. 7, the point is moot in any case since such motion simulators are well-established in the prior art.
  • Butterfield U.S. Pat. No. 6,135,928. This patent, which expired in 2008, discloses a spherical treadmill for VR gaming, but it is so small at 6-7 ft. diameter as to never seem flat to its human “rider,” who requires a restraining harness and support system just to stay upright. In the Butterfield patent, the sphere basically represents a human-powered trackball, operating in exactly that manner to input x- and y-axis orientation and movement to a VR game on a computer.
  • Put another way, Butterfield's focus is virtual reality, for fantasy games, while the application below is all about the best-possible simulation of actual reality in a remote location. As a consequence, the Stephens specification does not utilize a small, inflatable sphere as a computer trackball or mouse as taught by Butterfield, but rather uses a much larger and firmer motor-driven spherical treadmill to replicate the terrain upon which a proxy robot is walking, climbing or carrying out various tasks. (Butterfield does depict how a “hill” can be created by moving the user off-center, but the problem with such a small sphere is that there is a constant “hill” created by the small-diameter sphere itself.)
  • These and other distinctions over the current art will become evident from study of the specification and drawings to follow.
  • The specification to follow discloses novel systems, methods and apparatus to simulate the environment of the proxy robot's mission, to assure the best possible outcome of that mission.
  • OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION
  • One object of the present invention is to describe a viable methodology for human space exploration utilizing proxy robot surrogates in space controlled by humans on earth.
  • A second object of the present invention is to provide human telepresence on the moon and other locations near earth utilizing proxy robots capable of being controlled by one or more human handlers in real or near-real time.
  • A third object of the present invention is to provide telepresence on the moon and other locations in space utilizing proxy robots in such manner that each proxy robot functions as a human telepresence, a surrogate for one or more humans back on earth or at some other remote location.
  • A fourth object of the present invention is to provide human telepresence on the moon and other locations in space utilizing human proxy robots capable of providing accurate visual, aural, olfactory, tactile and other sensual data to a human handler such that the handler experiences the experience of actually being there in the body of the proxy robot.
  • A fifth object of the present invention is to monitor and capture all movements of a human handler by means of motion capture technology modified for this purpose in such manner that each change in joint angle, body posture or position can be relayed as “follow me” data to a proxy robot for emulation.
  • A sixth object of this invention is to monitor and capture all movements of a human handler by means of strain sensors in the handler's clothing, gloves, stockings, booties or elastic bands worn by the handler over joints such that each change in joint angle, body posture or position can be relayed as “follow me” data to a proxy robot for emulation.
  • A seventh object of this invention is to provide human telepresence on the earth, on the moon and at other locations near earth utilizing human proxy robots which receive tactile data from their human handlers and follow each and every move of each handler in “follow me” commands.
  • An eighth object of this invention is to provide for teams of human proxy robots under direct human control to carry out missions on the earth, on the moon and at other locations in near earth locations, where individual robotic team members are operated by humans specialized in fields including geology; planetary science; life science; emergency response, whether human or robotic; human medicine; robot maintenance and repair; mining; and sample analysis.
  • A ninth object of this invention is to provide for teams of human proxy robots operating under direct human control to carry out missions on the earth, on the moon and at other near earth locations, where individual robotic team members are operated by humans specialized in fields such as construction of communication or observation platforms, assembly of telescopes and other instruments, landing and launch areas, shelters and habitations for human dwellers, or mines or resource processing facilities.
  • A tenth object of this invention is to provide a middle course between robotic and manned space missions that goes far in satisfying the need for human presence while avoiding the inherent risks and enormous cost to send human astronauts to places like the moon, with exploration undertaken by means of robot proxies operated by specialists on earth who see what the proxy sees and feel what it feels, while working and making judgement calls in their particular specialty.
  • An eleventh object of the present invention is to describe a viable methodology for human space exploration utilizing proxy robot surrogates in space controlled by humans in non-earth locations including space stations, orbiting modules, spacecraft, and lunar or planetary bases.
  • A twelfth object of the present invention is the provision of two-way data and communication channels between proxy robots and their handlers, including channels from proxy to human with video, sensory, positional and analytical data.
  • A thirteenth object of the present invention is the provision of two-way data and communication channels between proxy robots and their handlers, including channels from handler to proxy with “follow me” positional data and mission commands.
  • A fourteenth object of the present invention is the provision of send/receive headsets for human handlers operating proxy robots as a team, whereby the handlers can communicate among themselves and with other mission specialists while operating their individual proxies.
  • A fifteenth object of the present invention is the provision of replica tools for the human handler of exactly the same size and shape as the tools available to the proxy robot, but made to match the weight of each tool in its remote location.
  • A sixteenth object of the present invention is to provide a treadmill for the human handler with provision for changing the pitch and roll of the treadmill to match conditions in the remote location of the proxy robot.
  • A seventeenth object of the present invention is to provide a treadmill for the human handler with provision for changing the pitch and roll of the treadmill to match conditions in the remote location of the proxy robot, where pitch, roll and other positional data are continually adjusted in the handler environment from computer-driven mechanisms analyzing video and other signals from the proxy robot.
  • An eighteenth object as in seventeen above, wherein doppler radar transceivers operating via radio frequency, light, infra-red or even sonar where applicable could be located in appropriate locations such as above the robot's eye cameras and in the front of the robot's boots.
  • A nineteenth object of the present invention is to provide a flow of data from human handler to proxy robot, wherein joints in the arm, wrist, hand, fingers, torso, legs, feet and neck of the human handler continually send positional and joint angle data to the robot for “follow me” repication by the proxy robot.
  • Object twenty as in object nineteen, wherein sensors would continuously monitor the side-to-side angle (heading), up-down angle (pitch), and sideways tilt (roll) of the human's head, allowing all of these angles to be faithfully replicated by the proxy robot.
  • A twenty-first object of the present invention is to provide outer wear for the human handler such that, wherever the proxy robot is stiff and inflexible, the human should feel the same inflexibility.
  • A twenty-second object of the present invention is the provision of a two-way communication headset to be worn by the human handler to allow handler communication with human colleagues, including mission personnel and other team members.
  • A twenty-third object of the present invention, where the human handler's microphone can also be used for voice commands to the mission computer, like saying “Freeze, Freeze” to stop the robot in its tracks and go offline, and “Restore, Restore” to restore the link and continue human-robot interaction.
  • A twenty-fourth object of the present invention is the provision of a “gravity harness” connected to a number of bungee cords or cables with springs, all calibrated to render the effective weight of the human handler the same as that of the handler's proxy robot at its remote location.
  • A twenty-fifth object of the present invention is the provision of a video display for the human handler showing real- or near-real time video from the camera “eyes” of the handler's proxy robot.
  • A twenty-sixth object of the present invention, wherein the video in the preceeding object is three-dimensional, with the human handler's goggles or other display including provision for 3-D rendering such as polarization, left-right switching, color differentiation, vertical striation or some other known way to channel video from the robot's right camera to the handler's right eye and left camera robot video to the left eye of the handler.
  • A twenty-seventh object of the present invention is the provision of a video display screen as in the two preceding objects, wherein the display screen also includes information from the remote location such as ambient temperature, ambient luminosity, pitch forward, roll right-left, heading in degrees from true north, latitude and longitude, surface conditions, proxy battery status, and an area of the screen for alerts and warnings.
  • A twenty-eighth object of the present invention is the provision of a video display screen as in the preceding object, including a frontal and right profile view of the proxy robot's body in simple outline or stick figure form.
  • A twenty-ninth object of the present invention is the provision of a method and apparatus whereby the handler can change heading on a treadmill, causing the handler's proxy robot to change heading while the human handler stays safely on the treadmill, accomplished by placing the treadmill on a turntable which changes heading to match the average orientation of the handler's boots, with two or more markers on each boot signaling the orientation of that boot.
  • A thirtieth object of the present invention according to object twenty-nine, wherein an overhead reader scans or otherwise notes the position of the markers atop the handler's boots, such that when the second boot has changed heading, the reader sends a command to the turntable to rotate to a new heading averaged between the heading readings from both boots.
  • A thirty-first object of the present invention in accordance with object thirty, where the operational medium between the markers and reader is some method of radio transmission such as RFID, Bluetooth, WiFi, Zigbee, near-field or any number of other RF means; and wherein the reader contains transceivers that “ping” both points on each boot to triangulate their orientation and relative locations.
  • A thirty-second object of the present invention is further to the matter disclosed in objects thirty and thirty-one, wherein other triangulation methods can include laser transmission and reflection, radar and sonar, and the markers on the boots might themselves be transmitters of RF, sound or light, in which case the reader would incorporate one or more receivers to plot the orientation of each boot.
  • A thirty-third object of the present invention is a method and apparatus for varying the pitch and/or roll of a treadmill for a human proxy robot handler, wherein attached to the treadmill frame are four legs which are extendable via hydraulic, pneumatic or other means from a relatively short profile to many times that height; such that pitch (front to back tilt) may be varied by extending either front or back legs; roll (right-left tilt) can be varied by extending the legs on either side; and combinations of pitch and roll can be created by varying the length of each leg.
  • A thirty-fourth object of the present invention is another method and apparatus for varying the pitch and/or roll of a treadmill for a human proxy robot handler, wherein the treadmill is mounted by suitable means to a stand which rests on four or more short legs, and each leg in turn rests on a ball joint and ball-cupped foot which may be mounted to the floor, and wherein pitch and roll are controlled by four winches, each connected to a cable, wire or rope, and various corners of the treadmill stand are lifted to achieve the appropriate amount of pitch and/or roll.
  • A thirty-fifth object of the present invention adds stability to the device disclosed in object thirty-four above by including telescoping or coiled spring elements in each short leg to allow all legs to continue to touch the floor under any combination of pitch and roll.
  • A thirty-sixth object of the present invention adds stability to the device disclosed in object thirty-four above in the form of four bungee cords or cables with series springs radiating outward from each corner of the stand, with each cord connected to a suitable hook to maintain the entire platform centered and stable under various conditions of pitch and/or roll.
  • A thirty-seventh object of the present invention is a method and apparatus for varying the pitch and roll of a treadmill by housing that treadmill and a human proxy robot handler in a modified or custom made motion simulator, complete with gravity harness and large video screen, and wherein pitch and/or roll can be modified by varying the length of four or more large hydraulically extending arms supporting the motion simulator.
  • A thirty-eighth object of the present invention is the provision of an environment simulator including a treadmill with variable pitch and roll and infinitely variable heading; wherein the treadmill takes the form of a large sphere with a diameter many times average human height.
  • A thirty-ninth object of the present invention is the provision of a spherical treadmill environment simulator as in object thirty eight above, wherein the sphere rests upon several large bearings and is rotated by a plurality of rollers in contact with the surface of the sphere so as to turn the sphere in any direction when commanded by circuitry monitoring both the steps of a human handler and the pitch and roll of terrain immediately ahead in the remote location.
  • A fortieth object of the present invention is the provision of a spherical treadmill environment simulator as in object thirty eight above, wherein the treadmill itself moves the handler to a location on the surface of the sphere which exhibits pitch and roll matching terrain conditions in the remote location of the handler's proxy robot.
  • A forty-first object of the present invention is the provision of a spherical treadmill environment simulator as in object thirty eight above, with the added feature of the simulator receiving data from sources on the “person” of the proxy robot including 3-D video from its camera “eyes,” terrain-level radar data from its boots, and an additional radar view from a point above the robot's video cameras.
  • A forty-second object of the present invention is the provision of a spherical treadmill environment simulator as in object thirty eight above, wherein video from the remote location is routed to a video terrain analyzer which turns the near-real-time video stream into data about the terrain ahead, both immediate and the general lay of the land upcoming.
  • A forty-third object of the present invention is the provision of a spherical treadmill environment simulator as in object forty-two above, where the mentioned video data is combined with signals from the proxy robot's boot view and head view radar and routed to a “terrain just ahead” circuit where they are bundled with handler step motion data and fed to a processor which turns all the input into meaningful signals to drive the spherical treadmill's roller motors.
  • A forty-fourth object of the present invention is the provision of a spherical treadmill environment simulator as in object thirty-eight above, including a gravity harness suspended from a platform by a number of bungee cords or cables with springs, and with the additional provision for moving the gravity harness to follow the movement of the handler about on the sphere to maintain direct overhead lift and an effective human handler weight equal to that of the remote proxy robot.
  • A forty-fifth object of the present invention includes the movable gravity harness lift described in object forty-four above, but with the lifting and positioning done by a movable, extendable boom or robotic arm which receives data from a processor and maintains direct overhead upward torque on the human handler in her gravity harness.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • A system for controlling a human-controlled proxy robot surrogate is presented. The system includes a plurality of motion capture sensors for monitoring and capturing all movements of a human handler such that each change in joint angle, body posture or position; wherein the motion capture sensors are similar in operation to sensors utilized in motion picture animation, suitably modified to track critical handler movements in near real time. A plurality of controls attached to the proxy robot surrogate is also presented that relays the monitored and captured movements of the human handler as “follow me” data to the proxy robot surrogate in which the plurality of controls are configured such that the proxy robot surrogate emulates the movements of the handler.
  • The objects and advantages of the invention will be realized and attained by means of the elements and combinations particularly pointed out in the claims. It is to be understood that both the foregoing general description and the following detailed description are exemplary and explanatory and are not restrictive of the invention, as claimed.
  • DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a proxy robot and its human handler.
  • FIG. 1A illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a headset's electronic circuit.
  • FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a representation of a heads-up display.
  • FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a method and apparatus whereby the handler can change heading on the treadmill.
  • FIG. 3A illustrates an exemplary embodiment of the handler position.
  • FIG. 3B illustrates an exemplary embodiment of the handler position.
  • FIG. 3C illustrates an exemplary embodiment of the treadmill of FIG. 3 in a new heading.
  • FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of the orientation of a turntable.
  • FIG. 4A illustrates an exemplary embodiment of the handler's foot movement.
  • FIG. 4B illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a magnified and more detailed top-down view of the right boot.
  • FIG. 4C illustrates an exemplary embodiment of an overhead reader noting the position of these markers atop the handler's boots.
  • FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a treadmill mounted to a stand with appropriate mounting hardware.
  • FIG. 6 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a method and apparatus for adding pitch and roll.
  • FIG. 7. illustrates an exemplary embodiment of another method and apparatus for the addition of pitch and roll to a treadmill simulator
  • FIG. 8 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a spherical treadmill with variable pitch, roll and infinitely variable heading.
  • FIG. 8A illustrates another exemplary embodiment of a spherical treadmill with variable pitch, roll and infinitely variable heading.
  • FIG. 9 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a method and apparatus for harvesting solar energy to maintain batteries and electrical systems.
  • FIG. 9A illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a rear view of the dome.
  • FIG. 9B illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a block diagram showing solar panels.
  • FIG. 10 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of methods and apparatus for the adjustment of key proxy robot dimensions.
  • FIG. 10A illustrates a manually-adjusting turnbuckle-like element, magnified for clarity
  • FIG. 10B illustrates an exemplary embodiment in block diagram form, of how the proxy robot dimension motors might work in a circuit.
  • FIG. 11 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a proxy robot with hydraulic size adjustment means.
  • FIG. 11A illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a size adjusting circuit utilizing hydraulic pump motors.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT
  • A description of the preferred embodiments with reference to the figures is here presented.
  • Referring to FIG. 1, a proxy robot surrogate 1 is depicted and its human handler 2. Note that the body position of both handler and proxy robot is the same, with the proxy following all the handler's moves. For example, in the handler's right hand 5 is a bar tool 6 for breaking and prying rocks; but more correctly the handler is holding a replica bar tool, probably made from plastic, composite or wood to simulate the weight of such a tool on the moon or at some other location in space. This and other replica mission tools would be stored in an area of easy access.
  • Proxy robot 1 is also holding a bar tool 4 in its right hand 3, but in this case the tool is real, made from steel or a similar substance capable of performing real work. Note as well that the robot is being made to walk up a slight hill 7, the incline of which is duplicated by mechanisms controlling a treadmill 8, which in this figure and those to come may, in an exemplary embodiment, be a manual treadmill controlled by the human handler's feet. Alternatively, the controlling mechanism is a motorized treadmill that automatically re-centers the handler after each step. Such control of handler pitch, roll and heading will be covered in the discussion under the figures to come.
  • Pitch and other positional aspects of handler's treadmill 8 are continually adjusted in the handler environment from computer-driven mechanisms analyzing video and other signals from the proxy robot. For example, satellite triangulation might have sufficient resolution to indicate an average terrain rise of so many centimeters per meter; moreover, Doppler radar transceivers operating via radio frequency, light, infra-red or even sonar where applicable could be located in appropriate locations 26, 27 such as above the robot's eye cameras and in the front of the robot's boots, respectively.
  • Some data, such as that just discussed, flows from proxy robot location to human base. Just as vital is data flowing from handler to proxy robot. For example, joints 10 in the arm and wrist of human handler 2 continually send positional and joint angle data to the robot for “follow me” replication by the proxy. Similar data is sent from hand and finger joints 12 in the human handler for replication in the same joints or hinges 11 in the robot. Torso and leg angles in the human 14 are also sent as data to the proxy for replication 13, and joint angles in the feet of the handler 16 are translated into data for replication in the proxy 15.
  • There are a number of means by which joint angle and similar data can be monitored and sent. One possibility is via clothing with built-in strain gauges at critical joints; another is from similar strain gauges in special elastic bands fitted for wear on the knees, ankles, elbows and so forth. Gloves, stockings and “booties” can also contain strain gauges. Another approach involves gyroscopic position marking, especially of the head's various angles. While only one side of human and proxy are depicted, is to be appreciated that similar data emanates from the right arm and leg of the human to control those sections of the proxy as well.
  • Depending on the need of the mission and complexity of the proxy robot, data may be sent from many more points on the human for replication by the proxy. Vital sensors would continuously monitor the side-to-side angle (yaw or heading), up-down angle (pitch), and sideways tilt (roll) of the human's head, represented by point 18 in the drawing. All of these angles would be faithfully replicated by the proxy robot, as represented by point 17. This latter interchange of data is extremely important, since it duplicates the human function of scanning, analyzing and just “looking around.”
  • Another method of sending “follow me” movement and positional data from handler to proxy was discussed in U.S. Patent Application 61/613,935; namely, the use of motion capture technology to monitor the same critical joint and movement areas by camera or other means. Depicted in the drawings are three appropriately modified motion capture cameras 37-39 spaced at 120-degree angles around the handler to capture the handler's every move. Data from these cameras is sent to a computer for analysis which is translated to near-real time movement commands to the proxy robot.
  • There are approximately 230 joints in the human body, but a number far fewer than this can suffice for robots and their human handlers. Wherever the robot is stiff and inflexible, the human will feel the same inflexibility in this exemplary embodiment, as noted by rigid areas 19 on the arm and torso of the proxy and the same areas 20 on the handler. Area 21 on the human handler comprises a display of video from the camera “eyes” 28 of the proxy robot. Other important data may be displayed on the handler's goggles as well, the subject of the figure to follow.
  • A two-way communication headset worn by the handler includes headphones 22 and microphone 29, and provides a means of handler communication with human colleagues, including mission personnel and other team members. The handler's microphone 29 can also be used for voice commands not directly intended for the proxy robot. A prime example of the latter is a command to take the handler off-line: for a change of handlers, a coffee or bathroom break, a quick meal or other purposes. So the handler might say “Freeze, Freeze” to stop the robot in its tracks and go offline, and “Restore, Restore” to restore the link and continue human-robot interaction.
  • FIG. 1A depicts the headset's electronic circuit. Headphones 22 a connect to a buss line 36 accessible to other handler team members and mission personnel. Microphone 29 a feeds two buffer amplifiers 34. The amplifier to the right connects handler voice communication to the mission buss 36, while the left amplifier connects to processing circuitry that translates voice commands like “Freeze, Freeze” into meaningful guidance signals for the proxy robot. Note that a proxy robot can only receive signals from her/his handler; other communication on the mission buss is not received. Alternatively, two microphones at position 29 a could be employed; one to direct handler voice messages to the mission buss, and another to direct voice commands to the proxy robot.
  • A “gravity harness” 23 complete with protruding portions 24 to allow maximum handler flexibility is connected to a number of bungee cords 25 (or cables with springs) calculated to render the weight of the human handler the same as that of the handler's proxy robot at its remote location.
  • For example, earth's moon has approximately ⅙ earth gravity, so if a particular proxy robot weighs 120 kilograms on earth it would weigh a mere 20 kg on the moon. So the object is to render the weight equivalent of the human handler that same 20 kg, regardless of his or her actual weight. Put another way, if the handler weighs 70 kg, the gravity harness would effectively reduce that weight to 20 kg if that is the weight of the proxy on the moon.
  • FIG. 2 is an exemplary representation of how a heads-up display might appear in the helmet or goggles of a human handler, or on viewing screen(s) in front or possibly surrounding that handler. The main portion 30 in the upper portion of the drawing shows real- or near-real-time video from the camera “eyes” of the handler's proxy robot: a lunar scene with hills in the background and a large rock in the near foreground being surveyed by another proxy robot.
  • In an exemplary embodiment, as this video would almost certainly be three-dimensional, the handler's goggles include such provision for 3-D rendering as polarization, left-right switching, color differentiation, vertical striation or some other known way to channel video from the robot's right camera to the handler's right eye and left camera robot video to the left eye of the handler.
  • The display screen can also include such important information from the remote location as ambient temperature, ambient luminosity, pitch forward (incline in this case), roll right-left (slight tilt to the right showing), heading in degrees from true north, latitude and longitude, surface conditions, and proxy battery status, all represented by 31 in the drawing.
  • Area 32 of the display might contain alerts and warnings, in this case a message about an abrupt 3.51 meter rise (the big rock) some 4.7 meters ahead of the proxy, while area 32 of the screen could show a frontal and right profile view of the proxy robot's body in simple outline or stick figure form. The latter could be vital in depicting a proxy robot fall or entanglement.
  • FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary method and apparatus whereby the handler can change heading on the treadmill, causing the robot to change heading while the human handler stays safely on the treadmill. This can be accomplished by placing the treadmill on a turntable.
  • In FIG. 3A, the handler steps from position 44-45 by moving her left foot 44 to a turn position 47 pointing to a change in heading 48 to a new bearing 42 which is forty-five degrees clockwise of the old position. When the handler moves her right foot from position 49 to 50 in FIG. 3B (with the left foot remaining at position 51), this action completes the forty-five degree bearing change and causes the turntable to rotate from the old heading 52 to the new heading forty-five degrees right (clockwise) 53.
  • In FIG. 3C we see an exemplary embodiment of treadmill 54 at the new heading 55, and also that the treadmill has moved the handler back to the center. What is less obvious is that the handler has also shifted the positions of her feet 57, 58 to once again face forward, a move that can take place with a temporary offline interval like the “Freeze, Freeze” voice command discussed in FIG. 1 above. Small corrections like this should become second nature to the handler with adequate training.
  • FIG. 4 shows an example of how the orientation of turntable 40 in FIG. 3 can be changed to follow the footsteps of the human handler. In FIG. 4A, the handler's left foot 59 has already moved to the new orientation. Next the handler moves her right foot from position 60 to 61, aligning both boots in the new heading. FIG. 4B shows a magnified and more detailed top-down view of the right boot 64, showing two marker points 65 and 66 along the front-facing axis of the boot. The left boot (not shown) would have points at corresponding locations.
  • In FIG. 4C, an overhead reader 68 scans or otherwise notes the position of these markers atop the handler's boots, including markings 65 a and 66 a on the right boot 64 a as shown. When the second boot (the right one in this example) has changed heading, reader 68 sends a command to the turntable (40 in FIG. 3A) to rotate to a new heading averaged between the heading readings from both boots.
  • In practical terms there are many ways that reader 68 can track the points on the handler's boots. One possibility is by radio transmission (RFID, Bluetooth, WiFi, Zigbee, near-field or any number of other RF means), wherein the reader contains transceivers that “ping” both points on each boot and triangulate their relative locations. Other triangulation methods can include laser transmission and reflection, radar and sonar. Or the points on the boots might themselves be transmitters of RF, sound or light, in which case the reader would incorporate one or more receivers to plot the orientation of each boot.
  • Still under FIG. 4C, the areas 69 under the heel and sole of each of the handler's boots denote pressure switches to signal “foot down” to the proxy robot. This is an important operation, since it may be difficult for the handler to know whether a proxy's “foot” is firmly down or still hanging an inch off the ground, creating an impossible situation for the robot when the handler moves the other foot.
  • So the purpose of each pressure switch 69 is to tell the proxy robot that the heel, sole or both portions of the handler's boot is firmly on the ground, at which point the proxy will follow suit. Having pressure switches 69 under each portion also guides the proxy in the navigation of rough terrain, steep angles and so forth.
  • While FIGS. 3 and 4 above demonstrated a method and apparatus for varying the heading of a human handler on a treadmill, FIGS. 5-7 will demonstrate method and apparatus for varying the pitch 78 (tilt front-to-back) and/or roll 82 (tilt side-to-side) of the treadmill.
  • FIG. 5 depicts an exemplary embodiment of treadmill 70 mounted to a stand 71 with appropriate mounting hardware 72. Attached underneath the stand are four legs 73-76 extendable via hydraulic, pneumatic or other means from a relatively flat profile 77 to many times that height 73. When all legs are in their compacted state, the plane of stand 71 and its treadmill 70 is flat, without tilt in any direction.
  • Let us first consider pitch. If we want to tilt the treadmill up from front to back 80, front legs 74 and 75 should be in their compressed state, while back legs 73 and 76 will be totally or partially extended to achieve the desired rise to the rear of the treadmill. Front-up, rear-down pitch 81 is achieved by doing the opposite: extend front legs 74 and 75 and compress back legs 73 and 76.
  • In the case of roll, we can tilt (roll) the treadmill downward toward the right side 84 by compressing legs 75 and 76 while extending legs 73 and 74, or conversely tilt downward toward the left side 85 by compressing legs 73 and 74 while extending legs 75 and 76.
  • The accurate simulation of some remote terrain might involve a degree of both pitch and roll: for example, as the proxy robot climbs an irregular incline. Simulating this condition might involve fully compressing left rear leg 73, fully extending right front leg 75, and partially extending legs 74 and 76—all in accordance with terrain data received from video and sensors on the proxy robot.
  • FIG. 6 illustrates another exemplary method and apparatus for adding pitch and roll as taught in FIG. 5 above to a treadmill 86 mounted by suitable means 87 to a stand 88 which rests on four or more short legs 89. Each leg in turn rests on a ball joint 91 and ball-cupped foot 90 which may be mounted to the floor.
  • In this figure, pitch and roll are controlled by four winches 97-100, each connected to a cable, wire or rope 93-96, and one or more corners of the treadmill stand 88 are lifted to achieve the appropriate amount of pitch and/or roll. For example, if the incline of the terrain depicted in FIG. 1 above defines a rise (pitch) of 9 degrees, the treadmill might need to rise 10 cm from back to front, meaning that each of the two forward winches 97 and 98 would be commanded to take in 10 cm of cable.
  • In the example above, the treadmill would rest solely on its two rear legs, but the angle of each leg would no longer be perpendicular to the floor. This is the reason for ball joints 91, allowing the some weight of the treadmill and stand to rest on the rear legs even as their angle changes relative to the floor.
  • Always having at least one and usually at least two feet on the floor will help secure the semi-hanging treadmill, stand and human controller, but there are at least two additional possibilities to further stabilize the device. The first is to have telescoping elements 92 in each short leg to allow all legs to continue to touch the floor under any combination of pitch and roll. These are not the hydraulic or pneumatic jacks of FIG. 5, but rather serve only to stabilize the platform against sway. Rather than strictly telescoping, the internal extension 92 might also be made of spring steel, gently pulling the stand down under small extension and exerting increasing counter-force with greater extension.
  • A second method of platform stabilization is depicted in the form of lines 115-118 radiating outward from each corner of the stand 88. These lines are connected to a suitable hook 119, and may represent bungee cords or ropes or cables with series springs to maintain the entire platform centered and stable under various conditions of pitch and/or roll.
  • FIG. 7 illustrates still another exemplary method and apparatus for the addition of pitch and roll to a treadmill simulator for human proxy robot handlers, wherein the legs 120 under a treadmill 108 are firmly mounted to the floor of a modified or custom made motion simulator 101. Motion simulators are typically costly devices, with pitch, roll and various vibratory sensations (like earthquakes, rocket engines or runaway trains) are created by varying the length of four or more large hydraulically extending arms 102-105 resting on large floor pads 106, 107.
  • Within the pod of motion simulator 101 we see the human handler of FIG. 1, complete with gravity harness 109 and bungee cords or cables with series springs 110 hanging on hooks 111 from the ceiling of the pod. Note however, that this environment allows the human handler to view video from the camera “eyes” of her proxy robot on a large and possibly wrap-around video screen or screens 112 rather than view the same video in a helmet or goggles.
  • As a consequence, the goggles 113 worn by the handler in this drawing are likely for 3-D viewing, while a two-way headset 114 may still be employed for mission and team communication as well as voice commands like “Freeze, Freeze.” Although the same ends could be accomplished via a microphone and speakers not directly connected to the person of the handler, the headset 114 serves the additional purpose of isolating the handler from ambient noise including operational sounds of the motion simulator.
  • FIG. 8 illustrates an example of a spherical treadmill with variable pitch, roll and infinitely variable heading. In this novel approach, the treadmill takes the form of a large sphere 130, with a diameter many times average human height; e.g., at least three times but preferably five or more times human height. The diameter of sphere 130 in FIG. 8 is approximately 30 feet, but the simulator staging area typically occupies only the top 25% to 35%, as depicted by floor line 140. The sphere protrudes from a circular opening in upper floor 140, and a small area 168 where floor meets sphere is magnified to depict Teflon® or a flexible, renewable material such as bristles, rubber or plastic between the two surfaces. In addition to keeping debris from falling through the floor, this junction 169 serves to stabilize the sphere and smooth its motion.
  • The sphere 130 can be made of a lightweight but strong material such as plastic, aluminum or composite coated with rubber or a similar no-slip substance. It rests upon three or more large bearings 134, with each bearing seated in a socket 134 a which is mounted firmly in place to the support floor under sphere 130. Bearings 134 and their lubricated sockets 134 a assure movement of the sphere with minimum friction, allowing pressure wheel motors 131 and 133 to be relatively small and economical.
  • In the upper (simulator stage) portion of the sphere 130, a human handler 135 is taking a step to direct her proxy robot's course. As this takes place, data indicating handler heading 141, step distance 142 and step moment (time duration and velocity) 143 is sent to handler step motion circuitry 136 which sends appropriate data representing each parameter to both the proxy robot as part of a “follow me” data string 139 and to a processor 137 that feeds either digital or analog data to motor control circuitry 138 a, 138 b and 159, with description to follow later.
  • If the proxy robot is walking on flat terrain, the human handler will occupy position 135 a at the very top, center of sphere 130. Although that handler will be atop a very slight rise equal to the rise atop that section of the sphere, the simulation from a sphere five times the human's height will be of a relatively flat surface.
  • But if the robot is walking up a rise akin to the example in FIG. 1, this positive (nose up) pitch of around 10 degrees can be simulated by situating the handler in position 135 b on the sphere. A more severe forward pitch of approximately 20 degrees is shown as position 135 c on the sphere, while at position 135 d near floor level, rise in pitch approaches 45 degrees. Positive (upward) pitch is represented by arrow 144 in the drawing, while downward or negative pitch is represented by arrow 145.
  • Downward pitches on the same heading at −10, −20 and −45 degrees can be simulated from positions to the left of the sphere, at 135 e, 135 f and 135 g, respectively. If the handler's position moves left in the direction of arrow 146, there will be leftward roll (left tilt) in that position. For example, position 135 h would exhibit severe roll, tilting some 25 degrees to the left. Moving the operating stage in the opposite direction (hidden from view) will result in roll to the right (right tilt). From the foregoing, it can be seen that any conceivable combination of pitch and roll can be found at various locations on the surface of the spherical treadmill 130.
  • Since the pitch and roll conditions in the simulator beneath the human controller are determined by feedback 152 from the proxy robot's remote location, suitable means must be present to change the location of the handler staging area to one matching the average pitch and roll of the remote terrain. In the drawing, data is received from at least three sources on the “person” of the proxy robot: 3-D video from its camera “eyes” 153, terrain-level radar data from its boots 157, and an additional radar view 158 from a point above the robot's video cameras.
  • The video feed from the remote location is routed directly to display devices for the human handler and other mission personnel. Video can also go to a video terrain analyzer 153 which turns the near-real-time video stream into data 156 about the terrain ahead, both immediate (next step) and the general lay of the land upcoming.
  • These three data streams—video analysis 156, boot view radar 157 a and “third eye” radar 158 a are routed to a “terrain just ahead data” circuit 154 where they are bundled with data from handler step motion data circuit 136 and fed to a processor 137 which turns all the input into meaningful signals to drive the above-mentioned motor control circuitry 138 a, 138 b and 159.
  • Motor control circuits 138 a and 138 b convert the data from processor 137 into positive or negative direct current to drive motors 131 and 133 and their respective pressure rollers 131 a and 133 a in either direction when so instructed by processor 137, causing the sphere to turn under the handler's feet to compensate for steps the handler takes forward, backward or in any direction whatever. But since it is also acting from signals representing such upcoming terrain conditions as pitch 144, 145 and roll 146, it is the function of the roller motors to effectively move the sphere under the handler as each step is taken to place that person in average pitch and roll conditions matching the remote terrain to the greatest extent possible.
  • Motor mounts 132 are illustrated to show a possible position for a pressure solenoid that can activate whenever a roller motor is called into service, pushing, for example motor 131 and its attendant roller 131 a harder into the sphere to gain traction. The advantage of using solenoids in this manner is that the non-active roller(s)—from motor 133 and its roller 133 a in the example—provides less drag for the active motor and roller to overcome. Of course there may be instances when both roller motors (or possibly four roller motors, one every 90-degrees, with roller motor pairs spaced 180 degrees apart) may be called into action simultaneously. But in this case there will be less drag to overcome as motion overcomes inertia, even with all solenoids pushing the motors' rollers into the sphere. Although roller motors 131 and 133 are depicted as mounted against the upper floor 140, they can also be mounted at the sphere's equator or in any other convenient position.
  • As described in previous drawings, the human handler would be strapped into a gravity harness suspended from a platform 148, 149 by a number of bungee cords or cables with springs 147. A rotation collar 149 b allows the platform to rotate freely in any direction. As the handler is effectively moved about on the staging surface of the upper sphere, it is important that the gravity harness follow those movements to maintain the handler's correct effective weight, by lifting from a position directly above the handler and harness. In the drawing, three handler positions are depicted: 135 a which is relatively flat, 135 b with a positive pitch 10 degrees, and 135 c with a forward incline of some 20 degrees.
  • Roller motors 131 and 133 can place the handler in any of the above positions or virtually anywhere else on the simulator stage, but an additional mechanism is needed to move the gravity harness as the handler is moved. This mechanism is an extendable boom or robotic arm 162 shown at the top of FIG. 8, which provides overhead lift as well as positional correctness directly over whatever handler's position. The boom or robotic arm depicted is for illustrative purposes only, as it can be appreciated that other combinations of tracks, motors and cables can place the handler at the required positions.
  • At the tip of the boom is a winch 161. The motorized winch maintains constant torque (upward pull) on the handler at some predetermined level. For example, if the handler is to match the 40 lb. lunar weight of a 240 lb. robot, that handler's weight should be effectively 40 lbs. So a 160 lb. human handler would require a constant upward pull of 120 lbs., and a downward pull by gravity of 40 lbs. It is the job of winch 161 to maintain this effective weight. The winch pays out as much cable 150 as necessary to constantly maintain the desired upward pull on the handler, and it receives data from processor 137 via boom motor control circuit 159. The cable positions 150, 150 a and 150 b are maintained directly over handler positions 135 a,135 b and 135 c, respectively, by lateral movement of the boom, which can extend/retract; swing right or left, and tilt up or down in accordance with data instructions from processor 137 and boom motor control 159.
  • Maintaining constant torque solves one problem; namely, that the length of cable 150 must change the further the handler is moved from the “flat” position 135 a at top center. So when processor 137 and roller motors 131, 133 act to place the handler in position 135 c, for example, the length of cable 150 would leave the handler dangling in mid-air. But not really, since such dangling weight would equal 160 lbs downward. Immediately, the constant torque mechanism would tell the winch to let out more cable until the handler once again exerts 40 lbs downward and 120 lbs upward.
  • The winch weight-reducing apparatus is only necessary in remote locations with far less gravity than earth, a situation particularly true on the moon. For earth-bound projects, for example, the handler harness would require no gravity compensating apparatus, nor would it be useful on planets with greater gravity than earth.
  • FIG. 8A illustrates another approach to the rotation of sphere 130. Items numbered between 130 and 165 remain as described in FIG. 8 above, while FIG. 8A is concerned with a plurality of motors with rollers equally spaced around the sphere, preferably at its equator 281. In this drawing, twenty-four such roller motors are spaced at fifteen degree intervals around the sphere, with Nos. 251-263, representing the 13 roller motors visible in the hemisphere facing outward in the figure, and 264 representing the 11 roller motors out of view. In fact, any number of roller motors might be employed, with greater roller motor numbers spaced proportionately closer yielding finer control over the movement of the sphere 130. For example, thirty-six roller motors might be spaced at ten degree intervals, with opposing roller motors (at 180-degree spacing) receiving positive or negative direct current such that one motor such as 251 in the drawing will turn in the opposite direction of its opposing counterpart 263.
  • Simply activating opposing roller motor pairs with motors spaced at ten degree intervals would permit the same ten degree resolution of movement by the sphere, but the ability to activate two neighboring motors such as 257, 258 when necessary as well as their counterparts on the other side of the sphere can reduce that resolution to five degrees of accuracy. But in point of fact, extremely fine resolution of movement, on the order of one degree or less, can be achieved through the application of more voltage on a motor such as 257 and less on its neighbor 258 as well as their opposing counterparts.
  • In this drawing, the motor control circuits 138 a and 138 b of FIG. 8 are replaced with a motor array controller 250 which translates data from processor 137 into analog currents of specific polarity and amplitude to move spherical treadmill 130 in any desired direction under a human handler.
  • Motor and roller assembly 251 is shown in blowup form in insert 251 a, wherein motor 266 is attached to roller 267, and the roller motor assembly itself is attached to a motor mount 268 attached to sphere 130. The motor mount includes a swivel 268 a and spring 269 that pulls the roller motor assembly away from the surface 282 of the sphere, creating a gap 273 whenever the roller motor is not in use. This swivel and spring combination assures that inactive rollers are kept off of the surface of the sphere so that they don't add unwanted friction that impedes sphere rotation. Obviously, the swivel and spring are for illustration purposes only, and merely representative of a family of devices that can be employed for the stated purpose.
  • Also shown in insert 251 a is a push solenoid 270 mounted 280 to sphere 130. The solenoid has an inner plunger 271, usually an iron rod that can be repelled or attracted by a magnetic coil in the solenoid. In this insert, the solenoid is not activated and the plunger is withdrawn nearly completely into the solenoid core.
  • Insert 265 illustrates a mode wherein the roller motor assembly is activated such that the roller comes into pressure contact with the surface 283 of sphere 130. This is shown in blowup form in insert 265 a, where roller 274 is pressed against sphere surface 283 by energized solenoid 278 mounted 280 to the sphere. Note that plunger 279 is now extended from the solenoid core by magnetic repulsion, causing the motor mount 276 to rotate inward (counter clockwise) on its swivel 276 a, stretching spring 277. In this active mode, positive or negative current applied to motor 274 by motor array controller 250 will cause the motor to turn in one direction, rotating the pressure roller 275 in the same direction, and causing sphere 130 to turn in the opposite direction.
  • FIG. 9 depicts an exemplary method and apparatus for harvesting solar energy to maintain batteries and electrical systems functional for an extended period in proxy robots through the provision of built-in photovoltaic panels 180 on the upper surfaces of a cap, hat or helmet 181, including dome portion 182 and sunshade portion 183. Such a cap is also useful in shading robotic eye cameras from direct sunlight.
  • Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels may also be included on shoulder/breastplate 184. Although the figure depicts 6 individual cells or sections in breastplate 184F (front), this is for illustration purposes only, and any number of sections or cells may be employed. Photovoltaic panels may also be placed on the top facing surfaces of the feet 185R and 185L.
  • FIG. 9A is a rear view of the dome 182 and sunshade 183 of the cap, hat or helmet, while 184B (back) represents photovoltaic panels on the upper back and shoulder area.
  • FIG. 9B is a block diagram showing solar panels 180, 184F, 184B, 185R and 185L all connected to individual inputs in a PV charge manager 186. All photovoltaic panels generate electrical energy when exposed to sunlight or other radiation; energy which can be stored in batteries like the proxy robot's internal battery bank 187. PV charge manager 186 is designed to harvest any and all electrical energy emanating from the robot's PVs and convert it into charge energy for the batteries.
  • From battery bank 187, electrical power 188 is routed to mobility motors, processors, communication systems, cameras and other sensors, size-changing apparatus and other systems and devices in the robot requiring electrical energy. A charge station connector 189 is included on the battery bank to receive power from another charge manager located in the robot's normal charging station.
  • If battery power is very low, robot power routing may be prioritized—either automatically or from the mission base—in such manner that communication systems and cameras, for example, may receive power when some other robotic system do not. This will allow mission personnel to analyze the situation and seek remedies.
  • The inclusion of solar energy systems as described in FIG. 9 above provides an important failsafe, allowing an out-of-power robot to “re-fuel” away from its normal charging station 189. Moreover, it might be possible to completely bypass a failed battery bank and still have sufficient solar power available for communication, diagnostics, a shift in position to maximize solar input, or possibly even a slow but steady trek back to the base.
  • FIG. 10 illustrates an exemplary method and apparatus for the adjustment of key proxy robot dimensions by means of turnbuckle-like bolts with opposing threads. Specifically, dimensions are increased or decreased by use of either electric motors 191-195 or a manually-adjusting element such as wrench-adjusted portion 205 in FIG. 10A.
  • For example, if positive DC current is applied to motor 191 in the torso of the pictured proxy robot, the motor will commence rotation, turning its two oppositely-threaded shafts 196 and 1997 in a counter-clockwise (CCW) direction (see threaded portions 201 and 202 in FIG. 10 for clarity). This CCW rotation will cause shafts 196 and 197 to screw into threaded tubes 198 and 199, diminishing the torso length of the proxy robot.
  • Conversely, applying negative DC current to motor 191 will cause clockwise (CW) rotation of the oppositely-treaded shafts 196 and 197, causing these shafts to exit each treaded tube 198-199 and extend the dimensions of the torso.
  • The same applies to all other motors 192-195 and their corresponding shafts 196-197 with opposing threads and threaded tubes 198 and 199, but in the case of all other adjustable sections, normal operation would be to adjust right and left halves in pairs. For this reason there are two motors 192 in the upper arms with shafts and threaded tubes; two motors 193, et al in lower arms; two motors 194 et al in upper legs and two motors 195 in lower leg sections. In the drawing, darkened areas at the joints 190, shoulders and hips simply indicate structural connection points to complete the robotic skeleton.
  • Thus it can be seen that positive or negative DC current may be applied to either torso motor 191 or any of the arm or leg pairs, not only to adjust the overall height of the proxy robot from a minimum of around 5 feet to a maximum of 6.5 feet or greater, but also to adjust body proportions to match those of a human handler with, for example, long legs and short torso; long arms and legs and average torso, or long torso and shorter legs—combinations that real people bring to each mission. More will appear on this subject under FIG. 10B below.
  • Power-assisted proxy robot adjustment means like those described above might enable programmed readjustment of robot dimensions with each change of handler. For example, 5 handlers might be continuously operating a single robot in shifts, twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week (earth time). At each shift change, the new handler could enter a code or swipe a card (etc) which would not only serve as a security pass but also feed that particular handler's human dimensions into a program that would automatically readjust the robot to the dimensions of the new handler. The closer the physical match between handler and robot, the simpler and safer it movement and productive operation, and the more the handler will feel “at home” in the body of her/his robotic partner.
  • Of course, manual dimension adjustments might be made to a proxy robot with motorized or otherwise powered controls as well, not only to override or circumvent programmed adjustment but also for testing or field adjustments for whatever reason. In one example of the latter, particular conditions in a mine or crater, say, might need the services of a “taller” robot, while work in a confined space might warrant minimizing all dimensions.
  • FIG. 10A, as discussed above, is partly included to show a magnified turnbuckle-like element for clarity. But it also stands alone as an alternative to automatic and/or machine-adjustable dimensional elements, with a center element 205 integral to a threaded shaft with opposing threads 201 and 202. Although the figure shows a turnbuckle or screw extender-style apparatus with threads in two elements 206 and 207 matching each threaded shaft at the center end of two open “C” support braces 203 and 204, a more likely scenario is that of internally-threaded tubes like those in FIG. 10 rather than support braces and threaded end elements.
  • To extend the apparatus of FIG. 10A, a wrench or similar tool is placed over fixed center element 205. As above, CCW rotation will cause shafts 201 and 202 to screw into internally-threaded elements 206 and 207, diminishing the overall length 208 of the mechanism, while manual CW rotation will causing the threaded shafts to exit each end element 206 and 207, extend overall length 208.
  • FIG. 10B shows, in block diagram form, how the proxy robot dimension motors might work in a circuit. The motors represent upper arm portion 192 (left, right); lower arm section 193 (L,R); torso 191T; upper legs 194 (L,R); and lower leg sections 195 left and right. Note that all left, right motors are paired (wired in parallel), such that any adjustment to one lower arm, for example, would normally make the same adjustment in the other as well.
  • The two sides of each motor coil are directed to a proxy dimension motor controller 210, which in turn receives data 219 representing programmed dimensions 216 which can be either entered locally 217 at the site of the proxy robot, whether in factory, home base or some remote location, or, more likely, as remote input 218 within the communication data stream from the mission base.
  • Note as well direct inputs 211-215 to each motor or pair. This allows dimension changing by the application of appropriate positive or negative DC current directly into the robot—for testing, emergency situations, work-arounds and so forth.
  • FIG. 10C illustrates “taller” and “shorter” versions of a proxy robot, adjusted to match a taller and shorter human handler in each instance. Specifically depicted is a six-foot, six-inch human handler 220, and a proxy robot 221 adjusted to match the handler's overall height, arm and leg length, and so forth in accordance with the drawing and description under FIG. 10 above.
  • To the right of the taller human-proxy robot pair is another, shorter human handler 222 of five foot height, matched by proxy robot 223 of that same height. While it is obvious that humans 220 and 222 are not the same individual, the same cannot be said of robots 221 and 223, which very well may be the same proxy robot adjusted electronically to match the heights and other dimensions of the two rather distinct human handlers.
  • Note that the proxy robot's outer skin 224, 225 remains smooth and intact over the surface of the robotic frame. This outer skin renders the robot's internal circuits, power supplies and mechanisms clean and free from contaminates like dust, liquids and so forth, made possible through the use of an elastic, pleated or otherwise stretchable proxy robot skin constructed of plastic, rubber or some other flexible material.
  • Note as well compartments 226-229 in the larger proxy robot iteration 221. These contain electronics, mechanics, batteries, etc, and are mounted with vertical space between pairs 226-228 and 227-229. But in shrunken proxy robot iteration 223, the extra vertical space between the same compartment pairs 226 a-228 a and 227 a-229 a has nearly disappeared.
  • The principals discussed under FIG. 10C are for illustration purposes only, and apply equally to other dimension adjustment means such as hydraulic, pneumatic, screw-motor, turnbuckle, etc, while the illustration of compartments is also exemplary and not limiting in any manner.
  • FIG. 11 represents at least three scenarios wherein a proxy robot's dimensions (and quite possibly its movements as well) are controlled by fluid dynamics, including hydraulics and pneumatics. The first scenario involves hydraulics, with a hydraulic fluid reservoir tank 241 connected to a pump 230 that turns on as necessary to maintain some pressure constant in the tank and hydraulic systems. Although pump 230 is depicted in a position between tank 241 and hydraulic tubing 240 that runs throughout the robot, the actual location of the pump may vary.
  • Typically pump 230 is electrical; nevertheless, in dealing with proxy robots, whether semi-autonomous or under direct human handler control, it is possible to consider even a manual pump that can be operated by either another proxy robot or even the subject proxy robot itself: when it begins to feel “tired” it pumps a plunger, squeezes a fluid-filled ball or whatever to revitalize itself! Considerations such as this make it possible to envision robots operating completely from compressed fluid, with perhaps a single electric pump or even no electric compressor pump at all, with the robot receiving a full pressure charge periodically from a station at its mission base.
  • Still under scenario one, pressurized hydraulic fluid is available to a series of pressure valves 231-235 which take on the functions of the dimension-changing screw motors presented under FIG. 10. In the present case, each valve operates two pistons 238, 239 which protrude from cylinders 236-237 to change the overall dimension of their particular strut either positively (more length) or negatively (less length) depending on the hydraulic pressure let through each valve. Obviously, each hydraulic strut could operate with a single piston and cylinder rather that the double-ended configuration depicted.
  • The second scenario is also hydraulic, but in this case tank 241 serves to simply provide extra hydraulic fluid, and what were pressure valves 231-235 become individual pumps that each generate pressure sufficient to maintain a required set of strut dimensions. In this scenario, tank pump 230 simply assures sufficient fluid supply to each individual strut pump.
  • Scenario three works basically like scenario one, but in this case compressed gas replaces the hydraulic fluid. So pressure pump 230 is an “air” (gas) compressor that maintains the gas in tank 241 at a constant pressure, and pressure valves 231-235, pistons 238-239 and cylinders 236-237 are all pneumatic rather than hydraulic. Although robot mobility is not the focus of the present discussion, it is to be understood that systems for robot motion can also be hydraulic or pneumatic in nature as well as operating from electric motors so some combination of the above.
  • The block diagram under FIG. 11A serves a purpose identical to the circuit of FIG. 10B above, but in the present case the circuit serves hydraulic or pneumatic dimension-changing systems rather than achieving the same purpose through electrical means as in FIG. 10B.
  • Specifically, numbered items 231-235 are either pressure pumps or pressure valves as described in FIG. 11 above, including pumps or valves representing upper arm portion 232 (left, right); lower arm section 233 (L,R); torso 231T; upper legs 234 (L,R); and lower leg sections 235 left and right. Note that all left, right pumps or valves are paired (wired in parallel), such that any adjustment to one lower arm, for example, would normally make the same adjustment in the other as well.
  • The two sides of each pump motor or electrical valve coil are directed to a proxy dimension motor controller 250, which in turn receives data 251 representing programmed dimensions 252 which can be either entered locally 253 at the site of the proxy robot, whether in factory, home base or some remote location, or, more likely, as remote input 254 within the communication data stream from the mission base.
  • Note as well direct inputs 245-249 to each motor or pair. This allows dimension changing by the application of appropriate positive or negative DC current directly into the robot for testing, emergency situations, work-arounds and so forth.
  • This specification focuses on the creation of an environment for a human handler reflecting as closely as possible the remote environment of the handler's proxy robot. Simulating a remote environment is extremely valuable in training human handlers of proxy robots, both singly and in teams.
  • For training purposes, the content herein is applicable to robots with some or even a great deal of autonomy as taught in the previous application. But for actual missions this specification is particularly pertinent to cases where the robot is largely devoid of artificial intelligence (AI), essentially representing an extension of the human handler.
  • Put another way, this specification is about human telepresence in space, and especially in such near-space locations as the earth's moon. During his or her turn in control of a given proxy robot, the human handler sees and feels and acts through the “person” of that robot: guiding the proxy in exploring; mining; doing science experiments; constructing; observing the earth, planets or stars; launching spaceships to further destinations; rescuing other robots or humans; or simply enjoying an earthrise over the moon's horizon.

Claims (32)

I claim:
1. A system for controlling a human-controlled proxy robot surrogate comprising:
a plurality of motion capture sensors for monitoring and capturing all movements of a human handler such as each change in joint angle, body posture or position;
a plurality of controls attached to the proxy robot surrogate that relays the monitored and captured movements of the human handler as “follow me” data to the proxy robot surrogate; and
wherein the plurality of controls are configured such that the proxy robot surrogate emulates the movements of the human handler.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein said motion capture sensors are similar in operation to sensors utilized in motion picture animation, suitably modified to track critical handler movements in real time.
3. The system of claim 1, further comprising strain sensors in the handler's clothing, gloves, stockings, booties or elastic bands worn by the handler over joints such that each change in joint angle, body posture or position can be relayed as “follow me” data to a proxy robot surrogate for emulation.
4. The system of claim 1, further comprising two-way data and communication channels between proxy robot surrogates and their human handlers, including channels from the proxy robot surrogate to the human handler with video, sensory, positional and analytical data, and channels from handler to proxy robot surrogate with “follow me” positional data and mission commands.
5. The system of claim 4, further comprising a flow of data from the human handler to the proxy robot surrogate;
wherein joints in the arms, wrists, hands, fingers, torso, legs, feet and neck of the human handler continually send positional and joint angle data to the robot for “follow me” replication by the proxy robot surrogate.
6. The system of claim 5 further comprising sensors that continuously monitor the side-to-side angle (heading), up-down angle (pitch), and sideways tilt (roll) of the head of the human handler, allowing all of these angles to be faithfully replicated by the proxy robot surrogate.
7. The system of claim 4, wherein said two-way data channel includes three-dimensional video data from each of the proxy robot surrogate camera “eyes” transmitted to a head-mounted or other three-dimensional video display screen means available to the human handler.
8. The system of claim 7, wherein the display screen further includes information from a remote location such as ambient temperature, ambient luminosity, pitch forward, roll right-left, heading in degrees from true north, latitude and longitude, surface conditions, battery status, and an area of the screen for alerts and warnings.
9. The system of claim 7, wherein doppler radar transceivers operating via radio frequency, light, infra-red or sonar are located in appropriate locations such as above the proxy robot surrogate camera “eyes” and in the front of the boots of the proxy robot surrogate.
10. The system of claim 7, wherein the video display includes frontal and profile views of the body of the proxy robot surrogate in simple outline or stick figure form.
11. A system for simulating the movements of a human-controlled proxy robot surrogate at a remote location comprising:
a human handler in communication with the proxy robot surrogate;
a treadmill comprising a plurality of sensors in communication with a plurality of sensors on the proxy robot surrogate;
a circular platform on which the treadmill is mounted that adjusts to directional information communicated from the plurality of sensors on the proxy robot surrogate; and
a plurality of mechanisms that vary a pitch and tilt of the treadmill corresponding to terrain information of the remote location of the proxy robot surrogate;
wherein the terrain information includes pitch, roll and other positional data; and
wherein the terrain information is continually adjusted by a computer-driven mechanism that analyzes video and other signals from the proxy robot surrogate.
12. The system of claim 11, wherein the human handler is enabled to change heading on a treadmill, causing the proxy robot surrogate in communication with the human handler to change heading while the human handler stays safely on the treadmill, accomplished by placing the treadmill on a turntable which changes heading to match an average orientation of the human handler.
13. The system of claim 12, wherein boots of the human handler include two or more markers on each boot signaling the orientation of said boot.
14. The system of claim 13, wherein an overhead reader scans or otherwise receives the positions of the markers atop the boots of the human handler, such that when the second boot has changed heading, the reader sends a command to the turntable to rotate to a new heading averaged between the heading readings from each boot.
15. The system of claim 14, wherein the reader receives the marker positions via radio transmission methods including, RFID, Bluetooth, WiFi, Zigbee, near-field or any number of other RF means; and
wherein the reader contains transceivers that “ping” both points on each boot to triangulate their orientation and relative locations.
16. The system of claim 11, further comprising varying the pitch and/or roll of a treadmill for a human proxy robot handler, wherein attached to the treadmill frame are four legs which are extendable via hydraulic, pneumatic or other means from a relatively short profile to many times that height;
wherein the pitch may be varied by extending either front or back legs; roll can be varied by extending the legs on either side; and
wherein combinations of pitch and roll can be created by varying the length of each leg.
17. The system of claim 16, wherein the treadmill is mounted by suitable means to a stand which rests on four or more short legs, and each leg in turn rests on a ball joint and ball-cupped foot which may be mounted to the floor; and
wherein the pitch and roll are controlled by four winches, each connected to a cable, wire or rope, and various corners of the treadmill stand are lifted to achieve the appropriate amount of pitch and/or roll.
18. The system of claim 17, wherein stability is added through the inclusion of telescoping or coiled spring elements in each short leg to allow all legs to continue to touch the floor under any combination of pitch and roll; or
by the inclusion of at least four bungee cords or cables with series springs radiating outward from each corner of the stand, with each cord connected to a suitable hook to maintain the entire platform centered and stable under various conditions of pitch and/or roll.
19. A system for simulating the movements of a human-controlled proxy robot surrogate at remote location comprising:
a human handler in communication with the proxy robot surrogate;
a treadmill with variable pitch and roll and infinitely variable heading;
wherein the treadmill takes the form of a large sphere and the environment created falls generally within the top third of the sphere exterior;
a plurality of sensors attached to the human handler transmitting data including speed and step direction of the human handler;
a plurality of receivers on the proxy robot surrogate receiving the transmitted data from the sensors attached to the human handler controlling the movements of the proxy robot surrogate including speed and step direction.
20. The system of claim 19, wherein sphere diameter is at least 3 and preferably 5 or more times average human height.
21. The system of claim 19, wherein the sphere rests upon large bearings, and wherein roller motors rollers contact and turn the sphere in any direction when commanded by circuitry monitoring both the steps of a human handler and the pitch and roll of terrain immediately ahead in the remote location.
22. The system of claim 19, wherein the sphere itself moves the handler to a location on the surface of the sphere which exhibits pitch and roll matching terrain conditions in the remote location of the proxy robot surrogate that is in communication with the human handler.
23. The system of claim 19, further comprising receiving data from sources on the “person” of the proxy robot surrogate including 3-D video from camera “eyes,” terrain-level radar data from its boots, and an additional radar view from a point above the camera “eyes”.
24. The system of claim 23, wherein video from the remote location is routed to a video terrain analyzer which turns a near-real-time video stream into data about the terrain ahead, both immediate and a general upcoming topography.
25. The system of claim 24, wherein the video data is combined with signals from the proxy robot's boot view and head view radar and routed to a “terrain just ahead” circuit where they are bundled with handler step motion data and fed to a processor which turns all the input into meaningful signals to drive the spherical treadmill's roller motors.
26. The system of claim 19, further comprising a gravity harness for the handler suspended from a platform by a number of bungee cords or cables with springs, and calibrated to render the effective weight of the human handler the same as that of the handler's proxy robot at its remote location, and including means for moving the gravity harness to follow the movement of the handler about on the sphere to maintain direct overhead lift and an effective human handler weight equal to that of the remote proxy robot surrogate.
27. The system of claim 19, further comprising a plurality of motors disposed to include rollers equally spaced around the sphere, preferably at its equator.
28. The system of claim 19, further comprising a plurality of motor controllers, which translate data into specific polarity and amplitude signals to move the spherical treadmill in any desired direction.
29. The system of claim 27, further comprising a plurality of motor mounts that include swivel and spring assemblies that pull the rollers away from the surface of the sphere creating a gap whenever the motor is not in use
30. The system of claim 26, wherein the means for moving the gravity harness and maintaining the handler's effective weight is by a winch means letting out or taking in cable as the human handler and gravity harness are moved to new positions on the spherical treadmill.
31. The system of claim 26, wherein the gravity harness lifting and positioning is done by a movable, extendable boom or robotic arm which receives data from a processor and maintains direct overhead upward torque on the human handler in the gravity harness.
32. The system of claim 26, wherein a “Boot-down” switch or pressure pad on a heel and a sole of each of boot of the human handler signals the proxy robot surrogate to completely lower its corresponding boot to the ground, heel or toe first.
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