Instrumentation grant will establish UCSC’s Hybrid Robotic Systems Experimental Testbed

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A variety of robots, including robot manipulators, 2- and 4-legged robots, and quadrotors, in a high-fidelity physics-based simulation engine.

A group of researchers from the UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Michigan received a $275,000 instrumentation grant from the University’s Research Instrumentation Program. Defense University (DURIP) to create a more efficient test system for autonomous systems through the use of hybrid robotics.

Autonomous systems, such as drones, self-driving vehicles, and walking robots, are designed to achieve a set of goals in changing environments without human intervention.

Conventional autonomous system design processes involve separate stages for product design, testing, validation, and risk assessment, with separate simulation, manufacturing, and synthesis tools used at each stage. If failures occur in a later phase, the process must restart at the first phase, which significantly increases the time between testing and verification.

The multi-university project entitled “Verification and validation of autonomous systems with hybrid dynamics under uncertainty”, led by Ricardo Sanfelice, principal investigator and professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCSC, aims to streamline and accelerate the verification process and validation through a physical process. Design Optimization Paradigm (PDO) that combines all testing phases into a single environment for the development of autonomous systems. With the help of various robotic devices, this paradigm quickly prototypes the design of the autonomous system, validates its manufacture and quantifies both its performance and its risk of failure by performing physical tests.

The instrumentation funding, which will be administered by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), will provide the necessary equipment (3D rendering and manufacturing machines, manipulators, ground robots, aerial robots and vehicle robots) to that the researchers are testing their design paradigm theory.

“Producing a physical robot is one aspect of the design loop and is often the most time-consuming,” said Adeel Akhtar, post-doctoral fellow in electrical and computer engineering at UCSC, who worked closely with the researchers on this project. “With the new machines, we will be able to minimize human participation in this loop, thereby speeding up the overall process.”

The manufacturing and test equipment will establish a state-of-the-art test facility, located in UCSC’s Hybrid Systems Laboratory (HSL). Different types of robotic devices will work together in space for real-time manufacturing, experimental testing, and refurbishment of autonomous systems. The test bed, which will be called Hybrid Robotics Arena, will provide researchers with the ability to detect critical failures without having to restart the entire validation process, and to recondition and reprogram systems for optimal performance.

“It’s very exciting to see this funding coming in,” said Sanfelice, who leads the HSL and is the director of the Cyber-Physical Systems Research Center (CPSRC) at UCSC. “It’s going to allow us to build this new concept of build, test, and remanufacture in an experimental test bed, and enable multi-robot cooperation to build and assemble, and basically operate a system.”

Additionally, the Hybrid Robotics Arena will be a space for future collaborations across UCSC.

“Once this project is complete, the instrumentation will remain at UCSC,” Sanfelice said. “I see this as a very exciting addition to our robotics engineering program, which will help attract new students and researchers. This not only allows us to validate our theory in the short term, but also provides exciting opportunities for future research in robotics and control.

Akhtar added that this facility will provide valuable hands-on robotics research opportunities for undergraduates and graduates, preparing them for industry.

The new test environment’s computer interface will also allow for remote testing and reprogramming, providing the opportunity for inter-university research collaborations.

The proposal “Verification and validation of autonomous systems with hybrid dynamics under uncertainty” was supported in part by the Center for Research on Cyber-Physical Systems. Co-principal investigators on the project include Daniele Venturi, professor of applied mathematics at UC Santa Cruz; Michael Wehner, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Shai Revzen, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan.

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