Teleoperation means "doing work at a distance", although by "work" we mean almost anything. What we mean by "distance" is also vague: it can refer to a physical distance, where the operator is separated from the robot by a large distance, but it can also refer to a change in scale, where for an example a surgeon may use micro-manipulator technology to conduct surgery on a microscopic level.
A telemanipulator (teleoperator) is a device that is controlled remotely by a human operator. If such a device has the ability to perform autonomous work, it is called a telerobot. If the device is completely autonomous, it is called a robot. In simple cases the controlling operator's command actions correspond directly to actions in the device controlled, as for example in a radio controlled model aircraft or a tethered deep submergence vehicle. Where communications delays make direct control impractical (such as a remote planetary rover), or it is desired to reduce operator workload (as in a remotely controlled spy or attack aircraft) , the device will not be controlled directly, instead being commanded to follow a specified path. At increasing levels of sophistication the device may operate somewhat independently in matters such as obstacle avoidance, also commonly employed in planetary rovers.
Devices designed to allow the operator to control a robot at a distance is sometimes called telecheric robotics.
Two major components of Telerobotics and Telepresence are the visual and control applications. A remote camera provides a visual representation of the view from the robot. Placing the robotic camera in a perspective that allows intuitive control is a recent technique that although based in Science Fiction (Robert Heinleins WALDO AND MAGIC COMPANY 1959) has not been fruitful as the speed, resolution and bandwidth have only recently been adequate to the task of being able to control the robot camera in a meaningful way. Using a head mounted display, the control of the camera can be facilitated by tracking the head as shown in the figure below.
This only works if the user feels comfortable with the latency of the system, the lag in the response to movements, and the visual representation. Any issues such as, inadequate resolution, latency of the video image, lag in the mechanical and computer processing of the movement and response, and optical distortion due to camera lens and head mounted display lenses, can cause the user 'simulator sickness' which is exacerbated by the lack of vestibular stimulation with visual representation of motion.
Mismatch between the users motions such as registration errors, lag in movement response due to overfiltering, inadequate resolution for small movements, and slow speed can contribute to these problems.
The same technology can control the robot, but then the hand eye coordination issues become even more pervasive through the system, and user tension or frustration can make the system difficult to use.
Ironically the tendency to build robots has been to minimize the degrees of freedom because that reduces the control problems. Recent improvements in computers has shifted the emphasis to more degrees of freedom, allowing robotic devices that seem more intelligent and more human in their motions. This also allows more direct teleoperation as the user can control the robot with their own motions.
Telepresence means "feeling like you are somewhere else". Some people have a very technical interpretation of this, where they insist that you must have head-mounted displays in order to have telepresence. Other people have a task-specific meaning, where "presence" requires feeling that you are emotionally and socially connected with the remote world. It's all a little vague at this time.
A telerobotic interface can be as simple as a common MMK (monitor-mouse-keyboard) interface. While this is not immersive, it is inexpensive. Telerobotics driven by internet connections are often of this type. A valuable modification to MMK is a joystick, which provides a more intuitive navigation scheme for planar robot movement.
Dedicated telepresence setups utilize a head mounted display with either single or dual eye display, and an ergonomically matched interface with joystick and related button, slider, trigger controls.
Future interfaces will merge fully immersive virtual reality interfaces and port real-time video instead of computer-generated images. Another example would be to use an omnidirectional treadmill with an immersive display system so that the robot is driven by the person walking or running. Additional modifications may include merged data displays such as Infrared thermal imaging, real-time threat assessment, or device schematics.
With the exception project Apollo most space exploration has been conducted with telerobotic space probes. Most space-based astronomy has been conducted with telerobotic telescopes. Recent noteworthy examples include the Mars exploration rovers (MER) and the Hubble Space Telescope. In the case of the MER mission, the spacecraft and the rover were each telerobotically operated.
Marine remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are widely used to work in water too deep or too dangerous for divers. They repair offshore oil platforms and attach cables to sunken ships to hoist them. They are usually attached by a tether to a control center on a surface ship. The wreck of the Titanic was explored by an ROV, as well as by a crew-operated vessel.
Additionally, a lot of telerobotic research is being done in the field of medical devices, and minimally invasive surgical systems. With a robot system a surgeon can work inside the body through tiny holes just big enough for the manipulator, with no need to open up the chest cavity to allow hands inside.
- NASA Telerobotics.
- NASA Telerobotics Program Plan.
- HeadThere, Inc..
- Demining Robots
- U Alberta
- Internet based telerobotics
- TeMo - Telerobotics over Mobile packet data services
- Advanced Robotics.
- Vecna Robotics.
- BioRobotics Group, Research on Teleoperation and Haptics.
- RatSLAM Web Robot, Drive a real robot in Australia from the web.