· Press Release
The Competence Center ROBDEKON opened its doors in Karlsruhe to an interested audience of experts and presented the current state of research in the field of decontamination robotics. Around 80 participants, including high-ranking representatives of the energy industry and companies working on the remediation of contaminated sites, were able to actively familiarize themselves with the (semi-)autonomous robot systems in live demonstrations on October 18 and 19, 2023, and discuss solutions with the ROBDEKON partners. In the coming period, the technologies developed in the BMBF-funded competence center will be tested in real environments and made fit for practical use.
In the competence center "ROBDEKON - Robots for Decontamination in Hazardous Environments", which was launched in 2018, research institutions and companies are jointly developing autonomous and semi-autonomous systems for tasks that previously had to be performed manually or using conventional work machines. This can make a significant contribution to occupational safety for humans. Application scenarios include, for example, the remediation of chemically contaminated terrain and old waste disposal sites, the handling of hazardous materials, and the dismantling of nuclear facilities.
At this year's participation event, themed "Decontamination Robotics 2023" at the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB, participants from industry and application met and networked with ROBDEKON partners. Participants were able to test and experience "hands-on" a wide variety of robotic systems and autonomous construction machines that are being developed for various applications, such as measuring local dose rate, milling off contaminated concrete layers, or gripping and transporting hazardous materials.
"We are pleased that so many accepted the invitation to our participation event and were able to gain concrete insights into our development status," says Dr. Janko Petereit, scientist at Fraunhofer IOSB and ROBDEKON coordinator. This offers good starting points for the upcoming search for practical partners: "We have now reached the point where we can test the ROBDEKON robot systems in pilot projects. For this, we are looking for companies, both machine manufacturers and users, to further optimize the practicality of our technologies and pave the way to productive application." Interested parties can contact the ROBDEKON coordination office at Fraunhofer IOSB at any time.
In technical presentations and discussions, one focus was on the technological refinements that the Competence Center has recently been able to achieve and that form an important basis for the ability to be used in practice: For example, humanoid robots can now detect reflective or transparent objects when autonomously handling plant components. Autonomous excavators can now recover barrels remotely without damaging them. Sophisticated interfaces allow the robotic systems to communicate with each other to solve complex decontamination tasks autonomously as a team, as well as provide an intuitive human-machine interface.
In detail, the following developments could be experienced in practical use - partly at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), partly on the premises of Fraunhofer IOSB:
GammaBot for surveying of nuclear facilities (KIT): This robot autonomously travels through rooms of a nuclear facility and maps the surroundings by means of 3D laser scanners. The resulting high-resolution point clouds are automatically assembled into a complete spatial model. Additional information such as thermal images, gamma spectrograms or measurements of the local dose rate are stored in additional layers.
Holodeck for intuitive robot control (KIT): With a control lever that can move freely in space and Hololens glasses, users can control machines such as excavators from a safe distance or specify motion sequences. The innovative interface supports the user intuitively through haptic feedback. As the audience was able to see for themselves, the system makes it possible to feel the forces and resistances that arise on an excavator when trying to grasp and move barrels.
The humanoid robot ARMAR-DE for decontamination of plant components (KIT) is optimized for two-handed grasping and manipulation. It can autonomously or semi-autonomously grasp even unknown objects and select a suitable grip for them. This is also possible in complex situations, e.g. with reflective or transparent objects, which is a challenge in practice. The robot learns from each successful and unsuccessful grasping process for the future.
The multi-robot team for hazardous materials recovery (FZI) was demonstrated using two robot dogs. Based on the Robot Operating System (ROS), they visually sense the environment, assist the operator in grasping objects, and then autonomously deliver the load to the desired destination.
The control station system for shared autonomy (DFKI) can be flexibly positioned near the danger zone by truck, ship or other means of transportation. From a safe distance, the robotic systems can be controlled directly from the container. With the help of the mast camera, the maneuver and the surroundings of the robot system can be monitored. In addition, a 3D representation of the situation during the operation is available to the user. Due to the standardized ROBDEKON software interface used here, all ROBDEKON robot systems can be operated from all ROBDEKON control stations and the sensor data of the systems are displayed according to the capabilities of the control station.
Autonomous 24-ton excavator ALICE (Fraunhofer IOSB): The excavator has hardware and software modules for localization, environment mapping, obstacle detection and motion planning. It can move autonomously in unknown, unstructured terrain and remove contaminated layers of soil. The demo showed how ALICE assists humans in grasping barrels without damage and then autonomously deposits them in the target area.
The next ROBDEKON participation event is expected to take place in the fall of 2024.
ROBDEKON is one of two centers of excellence for robotic systems funded under the BMBF's "Research for Civil Security" program since 2018. It is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB in Karlsruhe. Research partners are the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the FZI Research Center for Information Technology and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences (Die HKA). Industrial partners in the consortium are Götting KG, Kraftanlagen Heidelberg GmbH and ICP Ingenieurgesellschaft Prof. Czurda und Partner mbH. The current second funding phase will run until the end of 2026. The long-term goal is to establish a self-sustaining network of experts and users for new technologies for decontamination using robots. More at: https://robdekon.de