Professor Luděk Žalud about robotics at CEITEC BUT

26. June 2017

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Professor Luděk Žalud leads team on robotics at CEITEC, Brno. Together with his team he has been working on the development of robots that can not only save human lives under extreme conditions, but can also help diagnose and treat skin diseases. 

Professor, you’re a team leader for a studying robotics at CEITEC BUT. Where do you see the greatest potential in this field?

In simple terms, robotics may be divided into mobile and stationary. While stationary robotics improves the quality of industrial production processes and reduces the cost of output products, such as mobile phones and cars, mobile robotics has started to permeate into a very broad spectrum of applications, ranging from the so called robotic vacuum cleaners to assistants for the elderly or people with disabilities, and research in dangerous areas that experience crises. This makes it clear that even today robotics substantially influences our lives and we are entitled to assume this trend is going to continue in the future, as well. The key prerequisite for further expansion of these technologies to new areas is their ability to safely and intelligently collaborate with humans in their natural environment. 

Robots are created in your lab for the needs of the military but serve a much higher purpose – to save lives. Why have you chosen this direction? Have any of your robots been used in practice? Or will they be used for practical purposes? 

The spectrum of the robots we have been developing is broad – they are not purely army machinery. This is also testified to by the fact that Orpheus, the robot we have been working on the longest, has been manufactured in eleven versions to date, ofwhich only four were for military purposes. Since my work at Brno University of Technology, I have found the protection of human life or health by robots to be a highly useful and needed application for mobile robots, which, furthermore, has a chance to receive funding in our country. Our team wishes to develop machines that will be useable in practice as soon as possible. Some of them, for instance Orpheus, we have developed and tested entir ely by ourselves, and can manufacture them, too. This is how we try to differentiate ourselves from other established university departments. We do not do science you just put in a drawer. We produce machines, algorithms and technology that are maximally practically useful. In addition to Orpheus robots, we have several systems used in practice, for instance the Kyklop slit camera for the Fire Rescue Service of the South Moravian Region. And, we have just developed Morpheus, a new robot for the National Radiation Protection Institute. We have other interesting applications but I’m not authorised to talk about them publicly.

Can you briefly describe the process from the inception of an idea to the implementation of a robot? How are robots tested? Do you need special testing conditions?

If we speak of a mobile robot for special surveying – our speciality – the first phase comprises clarification of the machine’s parameters with the customer. This is a very important moment which shows whether we are capable of building the machine required, how long it will take and what the expenses will be. Then, we use an engineering program to design the form of the robot and use another program to virtually “load” it with all the necessary equipment. Based upon the maximum required speed, we also select or have motors designed. For the machine to work well, it must not exceed a certain total weight so we have to figure out the best battery type and capacity, etc. We also have to consider the entire structure from the technology point of view so that the machine is actually possible to produce and assemble. Then we have the robot made. In our case, we have a very smart person in charge of that with some portions being subcontracted. In the end, the machine must be thoroughly tested. In the case of one of our military robots, the production took five months and the testing period, adhering to the military standards, took seven months, so you see how demanding the testing phase is. The military robot was tested using 19 individual tests, including a range of operating and storage temperatures, vibrations, shocks, as well as electromagnetic compatibility, contamination/decontamination, and other specific tests.

Your ATEROS system is very successful, and has been recently awarded a prize at the AMPÉR trade fair in Brno. This robotic system serves to survey areas difficult to access by humans. How does it work and what is unique about its technology?

ATEROS stands for autonomous telepresence robotic system. It is a multi-robot system for autonomous or supervised survey of areas difficult to access or dangerous for humans. For instance, the system may be used for automated creation of 3D terrain mapping, determining whether its environment has been contaminated (radiation, chemical or biological contamination) or searching for and saving people. The system may be used for both military and non-military purposes. ATEROS is composed of a control station with one or several operators and a group of heterogeneous robots: a small/large survey robot, mapping robot, and a drone. To control the system, an advanced user environment was developed making use of virtual and expanded reality and telepresence. 

Doing research must hinge a lot on team work. Do you work with other scientists in the Czech Republic and abroad? How does such collaboration take place and how do you assign individual tasks?

We take advantage of grants and professional associations to work closely with a host of scientific institutes both in the Czech Republic and abroad, as well as with many private companies. However, it is difficult to pin down how this collaboration takes place since it is practically always different. It ranges from student exchanges taking place under study program collaboration on large-scale European grants and purely tailor-made production based upon customer requirements. We divide work almost exclusively by the field of expertise. Every person on my team has his or her specific function, which paradoxically represents our weakness, since people are hard to substitute when necessary.

You have been trying to bring up a new generation of young scientists at CEITEC. What can your research program offer them?

In addition to working in an interesting multidisciplinary field, which robotics undoubtedly is, the greatest attraction might be the fact we do a great portion of our research for truly practical use. 

Where would you like to see your research go? Could you share your plans or current areas of interest with us?

We have been working on biomedical technologies recently. Under the H2020 ESCEL ASTONISH project, for instance, we have been developing a multispectral robotic scanner which could help diagnose and treat skin diseases, or so-called diabetic legs. Interestingly, in this area too we use exclusively methods otherwise commonly used in mobile robotics for 3D space mapping, only modified. Another project focuses on a new robot to survey interiors. For the TAROS robot developed by VOP CZ, our partner, we have also been developing an accurate self-localisation subsystem. So there is definitely lot of work to be done. Now we need to expand our team to include new qualified scientists. 

Source: Flying Mag

Author: Katerina Vlkova

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