Telerobotics

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Contents

Overview

Telerobotics as a technology has been around for a long time with many applications in different industries. However, this technology is still expanding and there are many new innovations and applications being worked on every day. Research states that the global teleoperation and telerobotics market is going to reach $98.3 billion by 2027 highlighting just how vast this technology has become [1]

What is telerobotics?

Telerobotics can be described as a combination of three different fields of technology, which are telepresence, robotics and teleoperation:

Telepresence: This area technology has become more relevant with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic as regular citizens are now regular participants in it. Telepresence is the technology and the use of technology that allows a person to feel like they are present at a remote location and also appear as if they are at that distant location [2]. This includes all the technologies that aid in that process such as video cameras, audio equipment, and screen or hologram technologies.

Robotics: This area of technology concerns with the construction and usage of machines for tasks that are usually performed by humans [3].

Teleoperation: The operation of a machine or system remotely. This is also commonly referred to as remote control [4].

Combining these three areas of technology, the definition of telerobotics becomes apparent, which is the control of robots or semi-autonomous robots from a distance, mainly using Wireless networks or tethered connections

Components of a Telerobotic System

Components of common telerobotic system include a local site, a communication channel and a remote site [5].

Local Site: There is a human operator that is in control of the telepresence robot. Next, there is a master which is the system that the human operator uses to control the robot and a feedback screen, which can include visual, audio or other forms of feedback from the actions being performed at the remote site [6].

Communication Channel: In between the local and the remote site is the communication channel which is typically a wireless connection[7].

Remote Site: There is the actual robot that performs the actions as directed by the human operator and the actual environment that the robot interacts with[8].

Benefits of Telerobotics

Safety: Safety is one of the main benefits derived from telerobotics. This is because robots can perform tasks that are too dangerous for regular workers. With the usage of robots employers can avoid putting their employees to unnecessary risks.

Cost: In addition to safety, another benefit to employers is that they can cut down on costs. Since robots can perform tasks of several people and more efficiently it is much cheaper than hiring employees. For telerobotics, there are still costs of training the employee to operate the system, but it is still cheaper than manual labour.

Extreme Environments: Next, is the benefit of working in difficult environments [9]. Extreme heat or cold prevents humans from working but with telerobotics it becomes possible.

Disaster Recovery: Telerobotics can help after natural and non-natural disasters with rescuing people and infrastructure [10]. This also includes clearing out debris and working in extreme situations.

Accessibility: Finally, telerobotics increases accessibility to different specializations. In this case remote locations or different countries with lack of resources can purchase robots that will be operated by skilled professionals at distant locations. This allows those people to receive whatever help they need and also it helps with knowledge transfer overall.

History of Telerobotics

The history of telerobotics is closely tied with the history of teleoperators. Telerobotics is an advanced form of teleoperators because it involves a human operator that supervises the machine part through a computer intermediary. The following are some significant teleoperator inventions from the 19th to 21st century.

1898: Nikola Tesla’s teleoperated boat. Tesla invented the very first wireless remote-controlled boat. The boat is toy-sized but it has all components of a typical modern teleoperated ship and mechanism to capture the intent of the operator [11].

The 40s to 50s: Because of the World War, humans started to invent machines that helped handle nuclear materials.
First Master-Slave Teleoperator
  • In 1945, Goertzs Raymond, an American scientist, invented the first master-slave teleoperator that allowed a person to handle radioactive materials from an office. The machine consists of a one-meter-thick concrete wall that separates the person with dangerous materials, a radiation-proved window, a slave, and an identical master arm. The slave arm is electronically connected with the master arm. The master arm is controlled and manipulated by a human operator[12]. The connection between two arms is two ways, which means the human operator controlling the master arm can feel forces that are exerted on the slave arm [13].
  • In 1954, Goertzs Raymond and his team came up with some improvements and introduced the first electro mechanical manipulator with feedback servo control [14].This machine can provide more rest for the human operator when moving the arms. It has TV cameras that allow human operators to see the other side of the wall and from different viewpoints through monitors [15].

The 60s: Humans started to look for new uses of robotics in unexplored areas. For example, the mineral extraction and cable laying firms started to use robots. Gas and oil drilling operations got deeper. The race to the Moon started in the late 60s [16].

  • In 1966, the US Navy used a cable-controlled submersible to retrieve the B28F1 nuclear bomb that was accidentally dropped from an airplane from 2,850 feet (870 m) of water [17].

The 70s: an important milestone of humans in space exploration.

  • In 1969, the Soviet Union tried to send the Lonokhod 0 to the Moon, but it failed to land. In 1970, Lonokhod 1 was the first remote-controlled rover that successfully landed on the Moon and made some significant achievements. For example, it transmitted 20,000 TV images and 206 high-resolution panoramas and performed 25 soil analyses at more than 500 locations on the Moon. [18].
The 80s: when computer power got more advanced and the early inventions of 3D and VR display, telerobotics got advanced as well.
Virtual Interface Environment for Telerobot Control
  • NASA Ames introduced “virtual interface environment for telerobot control” in 1986, which was to help better control the Space Station [19].
  • The picture demonstrates how the system worked. The system consists of a head mounted display to track motion, a voice driven, 3D sound cueing, a hand gesture tracking, and a tactile feedback. The wearer could immerse in the entirely virtual environment. A robot in the real location with cameras on its head and arms could mimic the movements of the wearer [20].
  • In 1980, the term “Telepresence” was coined.

The 90s: Internet era. The Internet has become the center of everything, and the Internet of Things has changed the ways we live. With the interactive structure of the World Wide Web, the movement of robot arms could be controlled by Android or iOS devices via the Internet. The use of telerobotics started to be introduced to household uses [21].

  • The University of California, Berkeley introduced a telegarden. Basically, the Berkeley lab could control and direct a robot to plant and water in a garden located in Austria [22].

2000 to Present: With the advancement of AI technology, telerobotics has become more innovative and advanced, for example, remotely operated vehicles, Greater Vancouver Skytrain. We can remotely supervise the vehicle, provide instructions, approve or correct the vehicle path without actually performing the dynamic driving task. Robotics has been widely used in various industries such as health care, construction, manufacturing, etc.

  • Today: Smarthomes and home automation are getting popular due to their security and convenient features. With a smart garage door opener, people can control their garage door from anywhere, anytime. Smart security systems allow people to control and protect their homes via smartphone apps. With smart lighting and temperature controls, people can enjoy comfort and convenience in their homes.

Mining Industry

Benefits of Telerobotics in Mining

Improve safety. Working in mines and extracting raw materials from the Earth can put human lives at risk every day. The mining environment is very dangerous because workers are likely to be exposed to some operational dangers such as rock fallings, gas exposure, and entrapment. Using teleoperated machines helps keep human miners away from these dangerous environments.

Support a greener mining operation. Mining is known to pollute the environment, especially water and air. Using robots enables us to have more control over the mining operations and more accurate environmental impact assessment [23]. Robotics allows us to closely control the waste in the processes, so it helps to reduce the adverse impacts on the environment.

Improve efficiency. Machines can operate 24 hours a day. Robots do things faster than humans. For the same amount of work, robots will for sure get it done in a much shorter amount of time. Therefore, labor costs can be reduced.

Some Teleoperated Machines Used in Mining

Driverless haulage vehicles

Tinto Autonomous Haulage Truck
One of the first driverless haulage trucks introduced by Rio Tinto company. These vehicles are being used in mines in Western Australia to carry out and deliver iron ore. Human staff can control the operation of these vehicles anywhere in the world. Driverless vehicles save around 500 work hours a year, and this is a lot of money for mines that are facing financial depression. There is an obvious operating cost saving by using the technology [24].

Drones in mining

It is to help gather information about the mining sites. Drones are taken to the skies to confirm clearance before blasts. It also helps to monitor traffic, road conditions, and hazards. [25] With drones, miners can have a quick and accurate measurement about potential issues in mining sites. Therefore, issues can be closely monitored and miners can make changes to improve safety and productivity.

Robotics rock-drillings rigs

Like mining transportation, automation also transforms the extraction process. The Viper 25 rig drills with autonomous operation is an example of robotic rock-drilling rigs. It can move and dig independently. It can also monitor the ground conditions, detect obstacles and provide feedback for human operators. One human operator can work 3 drills remotely at the same time [26]. Automated drilling rigs can work 11.5 hours continuously compared with 8 hours for humans. That can help mining companies reduce labor costs. The extraction process is full of hazards such as rockfall, gas exposure, and high temperature underground. The use of teleoperated drillings can remove humans from such dangerous environments [27].

Future of Telerobotics in Mining

There are industry and employment concerns related to the wide use of telerobotics. The following are some projections about the future of telerobotics in mining:

Mining will continue to shift towards automation. [28] Robotics and automation can improve the flow of production and even extend mining hours as well as improve the safety of miners and industry professionals. With these tremendous benefits, mining companies will continue to seek automation in their mining operations.

Tech companies will likely become miners of the future. There are two reasons for the projection. Firstly, tech companies are on the rapid growth stage so it requires them to continuously innovate. However, technology innovators heavily rely on the security of natural resources. Another reason is the market is in high-demand for high-tech products which are made from rare materials, for example, battery minerals made from lithium, cobalt, graphite [29]. Tech companies rely on commodities to manufacture such high-demand products to sustain themselves in the competitive market. So the concern about the security of resources becomes crucial[30]. Thus, they are seeking to secure their supply of rare materials. It is likely that companies will undertake the ownership in mining companies, or even buy the mines themselves [31]. In the near future, big companies such as Apple and Tesla will step in to maintain their mineral supply.

The employment trend in the mining industry has been following farming. The use of telerobotics requires a change in employment structure for the mining industry. It reduces low-skilled job opportunities but will create new jobs with a higher level of skills. Remote monitoring and automated vehicle maintenance will require training and expertise. Also, humans are more flexible in dealing with unanticipated situations than robots. There is no need to eliminate human jobs when implementing automated machines [32]. Because the use of telerobotics requires less direct employment, it reduces the need for human miners to live around a mine.

Telesurgery

Overview

Telerobotics is widely considered to be an essential component of the field of telemedicine. The objective of telemedicine and the segments within this field is to provide healthcare services over long distances. Telerobotics can effectively eliminate the need for the physician and the patient to be in the same location simultaneously. This provides us with new treatment opportunities, consultation diagnosis, and medical intervention from a distance [33]. As a result, this would significantly affect the quality of healthcare service in isolated and rural areas where access to specialized medical services is limited.

Telesurgery is a method of surgery that uses wireless networks and robotic technology to allow doctors to operate on a patient from a remote location. This eliminates the need for surgeons to travel to the patient's location, which takes time and is often an expensive endeavor. As a result, telemedicine can virtually bring specialists to areas where medical facilities and experts are unavailable. Practically, a specialist can examine or operate on a patient at a different geographic location without either of them having to travel [34]. This can give individuals in remote areas many possibilities to receive treatment from equally experienced doctors as there would be in congested cities. With this, we can make healthcare more accessible for everyone.

Da Vinci System

Components of Da Vinci Machine

One of the leading trendsetters in the telesurgery industry is the Da Vinci machine. This machine was first used in the year 2000. The Da Vinci system translates your surgeon's hand movements at the console in real-time, bending and rotating the instruments while performing the procedure. The tiny wristed instruments move like a human hand but with a greater range of motion. This enables the surgeon to remotely make very accurate and precise movements necessary for conducting surgery. The system is used in a range of surgical procedures. Still, its most significant impact has been in urology, where it has a market monopoly on robot-assisted radical prostatectomies, which is the removal of the prostate and surrounding tissues to treat localized cancer [35].

The system has three components, the Surgeon console, the Patient cart, and the Vision cart. The surgeon sits at the console, controlling the instruments while viewing the anatomy in high-definition 3D. The patient cart is positioned alongside the bed. The patient cart holds the camera and instruments that the surgeon controls from the console. And the vision cart makes communication between components possible and supports the 3D high-definition vision system [36]. The Da Vinci machine is currently the most advanced telesurgery robot on the market with the most successful surgeries.

Who Operates Da Vinci Telesurgery Machines?

With the introduction of this new technology, doctors will need to be trained on using it. This training program has thus far been effective, and Doctors have found the Da Vinci machines to be relatively easy to get used to and skilled with once they have had some practice [37]. Additionally, many universities, including the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, are introducing biomedical engineering degrees to respond to these new technologies becoming more and more prevalent. Graduates of these programs and surgeons will likely be in charge of operating, maintaining, and developing these Da Vinci machines.

Despite this, the topic of training doctors is still largely undiscussed, and there is no widespread standard to use these machines. An issue that is presented occurs when doctors conduct surgeries and whether their doctor licensing is valid in the location of operation or the location where it is being undertaken. This poses a particular issue when performing surgery in different countries. This is currently a potential barrier to more widespread usage of telesurgery and requires new policies to be made by medical departments within jurisdictions and countries. While the internet has been able to connect humans and integrate one another to a degree we have never seen before, it presents an obstacle in licensing doctors and transferring qualifications for remote surgery operations.

Costs of Da Vinci Telesurgery Machine

Da Vinci Machine

While there is no doubt that these Da Vinci telesurgery machines have significant medical benefits for the future of surgery, they come at a high cost. Due to the industry's novelty, the purchase cost of the Da Vinci machine is around $2 million. In addition, there would be $180,000 in maintenance expenses every year. This comes out to an estimated $3,500 per operation [38]. It is anticipated that these costs will go down in the future due to larger economies of scale. However, at their current state, these high costs prove to be a barrier to investment, especially for many developing nations.

Benefits of Telesurgery

There are four critical benefits of telesurgery. These include:

Quicker Recovery For Patients

With regular surgery, doctors often have to make a large incision to access parts of the body. This large cut can often take a very long time to recover and poses a considerable danger of infection. The purpose of the incision is for doctors to get leverage and vision in the body part that they are operating. With telesurgery, the remote surgeon can access the body part with a camera and a surgery tool, and the incision is much smaller. As the surgeon essentially operates a tube with a light, camera, and surgery tools, they have sufficient access to the location of operation. As a result, the recovery time for the patient is much shorter [39].

No Risk of Transmission of Diseases

With the doctor performing the surgery remotely, there is no risk of transmitting a disease. This has become especially relevant recently, with COVID-19 being such a large part of the present-day medical environment. Currently, doctors have to face the risk of the patient they are operating on having COVID-19 or another transmittable disease which is another barrier to providing stress-free and safe surgery. With telesurgery, doctors no longer have to risk transmitting diseases and therefore reduce the surgeon's risk of harm.

Increased Productivity for Surgeons

There is currently a shortage of surgeons in Canada, and therefore we have to work to optimize the surgeons' and doctors' time to maximize efficiency. Presently, surgeons often have to travel to conduct surgery. This creates high travel expenses for doctors and surgeons to travel between locations as equipment often needs to be transferred. With telerobotic surgery, surgeons no longer have to travel to hospitals to provide healthcare service as they will be able to conduct this remotely from their nearest hospital. As a result, telesurgery allows us to mitigate many of the travel expenses associated with performing surgery while also getting more productivity from each doctor and surgeon.

Higher Quality Healthcare in Remote Areas

With telesurgery, medical assistance can be provided in remote locations. Doctors will be able to conduct their surgery in a place where they feel most comfortable and not have to travel to a new location which could be stressful and time inefficient. With telesurgery, Doctors will be able to conduct surgeries from their local hospital and provide high-quality medical assistance. Apart from medically isolated areas, telemedicine is also expected to play a vital role in removing barriers to healthcare provision in developing countries. Other areas that would be positively affected are natural disasters and war zones where consistent healthcare is unavailable, or there is no time to transport a patient to a hospital.

Future of Telesurgery

The first prediction of telesurgery is that the technology will see more widespread usage in the future. However, there are several barriers to doing this. The first is that currently, the high costs are not feasible for large-scale use in every hospital. These high costs make it especially difficult to invest in the technology for developing nations, where the technology is most needed. Another barrier to telesurgery becoming mainstream is the licensing of doctors differing between regions and countries. As laws vary across state and country borders, telesurgery has given rise to several legal and ethical issues [40]. With economies of scale reducing the cost of telesurgery machines and policymakers creating new laws to allow surgeons to operate across various regions, these issues can be addressed. Another potential problem that will be a barrier to making telesurgery the new norm is convincing patients that it is more accurate and more precise than a doctor in person. I think there will be some resistance from people who would rather have a doctor operate on them in person. However, once they realize the benefits and more people get surgery operations using telesurgery, they will become more comfortable. I believe that once both of these issues have been tackled, we will see more widespread usage of telesurgery.

Another up-and-coming technology is 5G. Professor de Lacy from the University of Barcelona stated that "the incorporation of 5G technology will make it possible to overcome barriers and reduce the current 0.27-second latency period to 0.01 seconds" [41]. This is a significant time reduction that will allow the surgeon to have more precision and control. Additionally, 5G will be able to increase image quality and detail. This increased detail will be an essential factor in the decision-making process for medical teams with as much information as possible [42]. The introduction of 5G technology will enable surgeons to provide a more accurate procedure on the patient, and this technology is sure to be vital for the future of telerobotics.

The telesurgery technology can influence more than just the medical industry as it will have transferability with other industries as well. It is unlikely that humans will ever be replaced entirely as they still need to operate and maintain these machines. Instead, telesurgery has created new jobs to make surgical procedures more efficient. Having learned more about telesurgery has certainly opened my eyes to new technologies that will be both exciting and potentially scary, due to their novelty, in years to come as they will change many industries worldwide.

Overall, telesurgery is guaranteed to play a prominent role in how surgery is conducted in the future. However, there will likely be resistance from the public to the robot providing potentially life-threatening procedures on patients. It is probable that after this initial hesitation is over, they will start to become more mainstream in hospitals. While there are certainly barriers to overcome before this technology becomes the new norm, the benefits outweigh the costs. Therefore it will only be a matter of time before telerobotics becomes more widely used.

Search and Rescue

Overview

Traditional Urban Search and Rescue


Each year, the Canadian Armed Forces take part in as many as a thousand search and rescue missions. This means hundreds of highly-trained search and rescue specialists risking their lives to save those in need, not to mention all the volunteers who also take part in these missions, which number over 9000 nationwide according to the search and rescue volunteer association of Canada. Search and rescue missions are extremely dangerous, often involving unfamiliar terrain and hazardous conditions. The same hazards that cause a victim to be in distress, are also the same ones that rescuers must face when trying to save them. Telerobotics and teleoperation have an immense potential to not only replace specialists and volunteers on the front-line by allowing them to operate in a search area or disaster zone from safety, but can also facilitate more effective search and rescue strategies. Telepresence robots in search and rescue and disaster response, commonly referred to simply as rescue robots, are not a novel idea, in fact they have been used during many tragic and notable disasters in the past, such as the world trade center disaster, or the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. In these situations, rescue robots were able to prove their potential, which will only continue to grow as the technologies continue to be developed and improved. Rescue robots are designed to work in tandem with a human operator, and many of them require more than one operator to be fully utilized. The robot essentially serves as an extension of the operators’ body or bodies, allowing them to view and interact with hazardous or inaccessible environments. Rescue robots can take many different forms, often with vastly different capabilities. They may look like aerial drones, rovers, tanks, or spiders, they may walk on four legs, and they may have arms which they can use to manipulate their environment, possibly by opening doors or moving obstacles. These robots can typically carry sensors or payloads, and have a one or more camera which can be used by the operator to view the robots surroundings. A possible situation where rescue robots are invaluable is in the case of structural fires. Once a house or other structural fire has been put out, it can take as many as 8 hours for the building to be reinforced, only then would rescuers be allowed to enter, which isn’t a problem for a rescue robot. Aerial drones are useful for surveying large swathes of land to find lost or missing individuals, such as hikers or skiers. Rescue robots can also be used to communicate with trapped victims or lost individuals until they can be rescued, providing them with much needed support and reassurance.

Design and Implementation

Emily Rescue Robot

Telepresence robotics is being constantly adapted to new functions in search and rescue operations. EMILY, or emergency integrated lifesaving lanyard, is a robot designed for use in rescue operations in open water. Essentially, EMILY is a remote-controlled boat that can act as a floatation device or rescue buoy. The robot can travel at 22 mph, can carry up to 5 passengers at a time, and features a Kevlar reinforced hull.

Snakebot

Another unique and imaginative rescue robot is Snakebot, developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. This long, cylindrical robot, which bears a resemblance to the animal for which it is named, has more than a dozen articulating joints, which allow it to traverse very difficult or unusual terrain. The robot is actually able to climb up a vertical pole, and incorporates automation systems to adapt to small variations in terrain without the operator’s input.

A rescue robot currently in development is this miniature telepresence helicopter being developed by the Search and Rescue service of St.Petersburg. This currently un-named robot is essentially a UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, which has been assembled with a variety of different sensors, including a radar, multispectral camera, and radiation detector. The robot will also be equipped with a search light and loud speaker. [43] The world trade center disaster is considered to be the first known use of rescue robots in an urban search environment. During the subsequent rescue effort, rescue robots which were small enough to fit inside a backpack were able to collect data in ways that rescuers couldn’t reach on their own. The robots were able to enter tight spaces to look for survivors, and were able to enter other areas that would be considered unsafe for an individual to enter. Rescue robots are able to serve many different functions; they can carry hazardous material detectors or food, medicine and other goods to trapped or stranded victims.[44] The Fukushima disaster was a major step in the development and adoption of rescue robots. Because of the extreme levels of radiation coming from the damaged and compromised core, it was impossible for engineers and clean up crews to even assess the damage to the reactor, let alone attempt any sort of repair. In 2016, the Japanese government constructed a robotics research center near the site of the nuclear disaster. It was here that many of the nation’s top robotics engineers designed and constructed revolutionary new robots to tackle the unique challenges associated with the clean-up effort. The greatest challenge initially was the radiation itself. Many of the early designs were not able to withstand the extreme radiation and had their electronic components fried. The robots that the research center created only had a functional life of mere hours when they were working inside the disaster zone. The robots that resulted were highly specialized, some built with 4 or 6 legs which walked like spiders, or larger rovers with arms capable of moving obstructions, to an unmanned submersible that was designed to enter into the flooded reactor where the meltdown began. The robots carried a variety of sensors and 3D scanners to collect the most accurate data possible.[45]

Summary

Telepresence robots have been used in search and rescue for a long time, but the ways in which they are being used are changing all the time in response to new technologies and new dangers. Being able to find those in need faster, sooner, and with less risk to rescuers is invaluable when lives are on the line. It appears for the time being that the use of rescue robots will only be more and more common.

Military

Within the military, the risk of death or injury is very high due to the tasks carried out by soldiers. As such, one of the ways of reducing human casualties is by using telerobotics and replacing human soldiers with robots. Around the world, the use of telerobotics within the military is very common and some major countries using robots within the military are the U.S, Russia, and China. [46] While there may be many applications of telerobotics within the military, this wiki entry will focus on three main technologies: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EODs).

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs for short are unmanned, remotely piloted aircrafts that can either be controlled remotely or with different degrees of autonomy. [47] Within the public, the word “drone” is the more widely used term and will be used interchangeably with UAVs. For the purpose of this wiki, when discussing UAVs, the focus will be on the drones that are remotely operated. These robots are used in missions when it is too risky or difficult to send out an aircraft with someone on board and some of these drones can operate for 24 hours.

Drone Applications

A combat drone: The MQ-9 Reaper

Today, drones have many different uses within the military and are used as decoys, for combat, and for surveillance.

Decoys: UAVs can be used as decoys in battle as they mislead opponents and draw fire from enemy opponents onto themselves. As a result, these decoys create an opening for other combat drones to engage with the enemy. [48]

Combat: Drones can also be used in combat as they can fire ground missiles and bombs. UAVs used for combat, however, need to have great precision so that they do not miss their target and cause more damage than needed.[48]

Surveillance: The use of drones within the military is the largest application of these robots and in 2019, it was projected that more than 80,000 surveillance drones will be purchased within the next 10 years. [49] This is a stark contrast to the projected number of combat drones, which was 2,000. Surveillance drones are used by the military to gather images, video recordings or live videos of people, vehicles, or areas. [48] Information gathered by these drones is then used to assess and monitor the movements of enemies and figure out where existing soldiers are.

Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs)

Unmanned ground vehicles or UGVs are vehicles that function on the ground and can only be operated when they are in direct contact with the ground. [50] These vehicles are controlled remotely by an operator and considered to be much safer to use as there is no human operator on board.[50] This is especially crucial in the case that the UGV drives across an explosive like a landmine. UGVs can operate for long periods of time, and they use sensors or radars to detect objects or hostile forces. Due to these sensors and radars and coupled with the use of the cameras, operators operating the UGV have a clear view of the environment. [50] Much like drones, UGVs are widely used in the military, with the global market for UGVs expecting to be worth $10.7 billion US dollars by 2031.[51]

Applications of UGVs

Some of the most common uses of UGVs are for surveillance, carrying weapons, and clearing mines. However, these vehicles are rarely used for more complex tasks like detecting or engaging in enemy forces as they are easily disrupted by the terrain. [52] There is also a vast amount of electromagnetic activity on the battlefield from drones and communication signals that further interrupts any signals sent to a UGV. Lastly, because these UGVs are remotely operated, there is always a risk of jamming or spying that all contribute to the reason for why UGVs are not used for more complex tasks.

The Jaguar

Jaguar UGV

One recent example of a UGV being used is the Jaguar which was employed by the Israeli Military. First reported to be in use back in June, the UGV is being used to patrol the Gaza border. [53] Weighing 1.5 tons or 3000 pounds, the Jaguar is equipped with high-resolution cameras that are used for surveillance and to navigate the terrain. [53]

At the command of the operator, the Jaguar can recharge itself at a charging station and is equipped with a machine gun that can fire 400 to 500 rounds. According to one soldier, the Jaguar “…can mount almost any weapon, rocket launchers, less [than] lethal weapons and crowd-dispersal means.” In the case that the Jaguar does fall into enemy hands, it can disable itself so that enemies are unable to recover any sensitive components. [53] The UGV can also transmit its coordinates so that it can be tracked and destroyed by other forces if needed. Lastly, the Jaguar is reported to have a wide command link, which was reported to be in “miles.” This is impressive given all the interference to communications signals with other UGVs. [53]

Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EODs)

Explosive ordnance disposals or EODs are a type of UGV. They are used to diffuse bombs while their operator is controlling the EOD remotely from a safe area. [54] To dispose of an explosive, it must be rendered inert without making the device detonate. [55] This means that the power supply must be disrupted by breaking the circuit which is either done by cutting the wire or using a jet of water to break it. Some explosives, however, have a secondary system that causes the device to explode if it has been tampered with. During these scenarios, using an EOD means that there would be no human casualties if the explosive were to go off. EODs are typically equipped with two cameras. The first camera will allow the operator to see where the robot is going, and a second camera is mounted on the arm of the robot. [55] The secondary camera is used to give the operator a wider view of the situation. The EOD is controlled by wireless communication, which increases the operational range but can also increase the possibility of hacking. When EODs were first introduced, operators had to use wires to pull and maneuver the robot.[56] However, operators now use 3D monitors with specially designed controls that translate the hand movements to the robot’s graspers.

Taurus

Taurus, the Bomb Disposal Robot

With technology advancing, however, the future development of EODs is heading towards the direction of virtual reality (VR) as some EODs are now being controlled by virtual reality. By using VR, operators now have a more immersive view of the situation, and it is much easier to control the robot. Taurus was a remotely operated bomb disposal robot developed by SRI International, the company that also created the DaVinci robot that is being used for telesurgery.

The robot is equipped with two independently controlled arms, with each arm containing a grasper and seven joints to replicate a human arm. [57] The operator uses an Oculus Rift headset and can see what the robot is seeing on a 3D monitor, creating a highly immersive experience. [58] In addition to that, the operator also uses the Oculus Touch controllers to track the hand motion of the operator, and then these motions are conveyed to the robot. To make the use of Taurus even more immersive, the robot also has haptic touch. This means that Taurus can communicate the forces it feels to the operator. For instance, if the robot were to push on a wall, the operator would be able to feel the force. The Taurus robot is also equipped with motion scaling. The operator can zoom the camera in, which would allow for the hand motions to be scaled. [59] For instance, while zoomed in, a large motion done by the operator is scaled down to a smaller and more controlled motion that is carried out by the robot.

Use of Military Robots by Police Departments

Robots employed by the military have also been used by local police departments. The use of these robots has sparked a debate about the ethics of the use of these robots and whether the force is truly needed by police departments.

Dallas Police Department Incident

Back in 2016, the Dallas Police Department used a remotely operated robot armed with bombs to kill a gunman. [60] The man, Micah Johnson had started shooting in Downtown Dallas, and during negotiations with the police, he informed them that he had placed bombs around the city. Police Chief David Brown defended the actions of the police department, saying that they had no other options but to send in a robot that had the C-4 explosive attached to it. [61] The use of the robot brought a lot of criticism and raised many ethical concerns about whether it should have been used.

Digidog

Digidog, the Robotic Dog

The Dallas Police Department situation was not the only situation in which the police force has used remotely operated robots. More recently, in December of 2020, the New York Police Department revealed that it was going to be testing a remotely operated robot dog called the “Digidog.” [62] Developed by Boston Dynamics, the robot is equipped with cameras that give the operator a 360-degree view, both in daylight and at night. [62] It also has sensors and various algorithms that the robot uses to help it move around.

The Digidog has been used in several instances such as a shooting in which the shooter had barricaded himself in their house. [63] It has also been used during a hostage situation in which the robot delivered food to the hostages.

Concerns About the Digidog

The use of the Digidog has drawn criticism from both the public and elected officials, with some people commenting about how the robot was something “straight out of Black Mirror.” [64] Some discussed how expensive the robots were, as they cost about $75,000 USD while many simply found the robot to be creepy. One of the most major concerns, however, was how the Digidog could be used as a surveillance robot and in turn, threaten civil liberties. Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez even tweeted about the robot, criticizing its use by saying “now robotic surveillance ground drones are being deployed for testing on low-income communities of colour with under-resourced schools.” [65] Eventually, due to the backlash, the New York Police Department terminated the $94,200 contract with the company and stopped using the robot as of April 2021. [66]

The Debate Surrounding the Use of Military Robots

As robotic technology advances, the use of robots in the military has expanded. As robots become more widely used by militaries across the world, a debate has begun about the ethics of using robots in the military and whether it is “good” or “bad” to be employing these robots.

The Good

One of the biggest advantages of using robots in the military is the number of human lives it can save and the number of casualties that can be reduced. By replacing human soldiers with robots, these soldiers are no longer physically on the battlefield. Compared to soldiers who are physically present on the battlefield, the soldiers remotely operating the robots may not feel the stress, fear, fatigue or even anger as strongly. [67] Additionally, as discussed earlier, robots such as EODs have contributed greatly to the safety of the operators. The EODs allow those who defuse bombs to be able to do their jobs successfully, without having to fear that the bomb will explode on them if they were to be there in person.

The Bad

Some have argued that because these operators are operating the robots from a remote location, it can make the operator feel detached from the situation.[67] For instance, the operators are not on the battlefield and are not seeing their fellow soldiers being (fatally) injured. To some soldiers, they may be so disconnected that the enemies they see on the screen may not seem like humans, making it easier for soldiers to kill.

As we continue to develop the field of robots, autonomous military robots have also begun to be researched and developed. The use of autonomous robots in the military has been called “The Age of Killer Robots” and there are fears that the availability of these robots would make it easier and cheaper to kill people. [68] The Vatican warned that the use of these autonomous robots would be dangerous, asking “how would autonomous weapons be able to respond to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience?” [69] In other words, how could these “killer robots” who choose who to kill without human input, be able to weigh in about whether the decision it is making is ethical or not?

Conclusion

Now, is the use of these robots within the military ultimately a good or bad thing? The answer to this question is not an easy one, nor is it a black and white one where the only answers are “yes, the use of robots is good” or “no, the use of robots is bad.” Rather, the answer is in a grey area in which the use of these robots can be considered both good and bad or ethical and unethical. On one hand, it is easy to see the number of lives and casualties that could be prevented by using robots. At the same time, the use of these robots brings up ethical concerns about whether these robots make soldiers detached from actions such as killing someone and whether autonomous robots should be able to make decisions with human lives at stake. Ultimately, the answer to whether the use of these robots is “good” or “bad” depends on how and when these robots are used and how they will be regulated.

Space

Space exploration is one of the most common industries for telerobotic applications due to the inability of humans to perform most of the tasks in space and on other planets. Telerobotics has expanded the possibilities for discovering space and delivered important data that will continue to help humans in further explorations in the future.

Rovers

The most common application of a telepresence robot in space is a rover. A rover is a device that explores the surface of planets and other celestial bodies [70] . They are considered semi-autonomous robots because the time lag that is present between Earth and other celestial bodies prevents live communication. Due to this lag rovers are built to have certain autonomous features to ensure their survival during the time between communications.

In 2020, several countries took advantage of the July Mars Launch Window. This window was the perfect time when Mars and Earth aligned in a way that allowed scientists to launch their space probes to Mars much easier. July 2020 saw the launch of the NASA Perseverance rover and the Zhurong rover by the CNSA both of which have arrived safely on Mars in 2021 [71].

Rover’s Tasks

Rovers are useful robots as they are capable of accomplishing many tasks while exploring the surface of the celestial body they are located on. Firstly, rovers are built in a way that allows them to collect samples usually with a robotic arm and also analyze them right away. This allows them to send back the data to scientists on Earth for further interpretation. Most rovers are also engineered in a way that allows them to make decisions as to what to sample, which is crucial for efficiency since scientists are unable to choose the samples live. Secondly, rovers are equipped with sensors and detectors that allow them to detect the weather, atmosphere and the terrain around them for better navigation. One of the most important and common tasks for rovers is taking photographs and videos of the environment around them, which are then sent back to Earth for analysis [72].

Rover’s Equipment

Depending on who produces the rover and what is the objective of its mission, the rover will have different tools equipped on it. Some common ones include cameras and a mast to extend it for taking photos and videos. Rovers are usually equipped with robotic arms that allow for sample collection, storage and analysis [73]. There is also a navigation system that directs the rover on where it needs to go and what landmarks of interest they need to travel to usually per the instructions of scientists back on Earth. X-ray systems are also included to analyze different samples. There are also several sensors and detectors included such as organic matter detectors, radiation detectors and atmosphere detectors. Finally, there is a communication system that allows for feedback to be sent back on Earth and receive further instructions[74]. All of these features allow scientists to collect and receive useful data and learn more about the planet’s environment and history.

Advantages of Rovers

Examine Unreachable Surfaces: With rovers, scientists are able to examine more of the surface of planets than ever before, since currently no country has landed a person anywhere outside the moon. Because rovers are physically present on the surface of the celestial body they are traversing and not just orbiting, they can collect way more useful information [75].

Follow Instructions: Rovers also take directions from their operators and can be directed to different landmarks of interest for close analysis. This allows for more precise exploration and better communication between scientists and the robot.

Long Lasting: Rovers are solar powered, so they are able to recharge and extend their journeys. Many of the successful rover missions went way beyond their predicted timeline.

Microscopic Analysis: Rovers are able to make microscopic examinations with the tools available to them and get very detailed information that otherwise isn’t possible from orbit or Earth [76]

Intelligent Decision Making: Rovers are also able to make intelligent observations and choices unlike regular robots. Due to their engineering, rovers can make decisions as to what to sample to take, when to take images and how to navigate around the planet making exploration easier.

Disadvantages of Rovers

High Chance of Failure: The rover missions are more likely to fail due to malfunctions or unsuccessful launches. Even after the rover is launched, the weather of the celestial body or unknown atmospheric conditions may render the rover useless.

Communication Lag: The communication lag prevents operators from directing the rovers live and all of the communication has a delay that depends on how far the rover is away from Earth. This also does not allow for live feedback and operators cannot redirect the rover quickly if something happens.

Terrain Dependent: Rover’s success depends on the terrain it traverses as it can get stuck on rocks or sand and become immobile. This will most likely turn the rover into a stationary data collector or make it completely inoperable.

Limited Exploration Area: Rovers can’t travel too far from their landing site usually due to terrain limitations. Even if they survive past their expected lifetime, mountains or steep cliffs can stop them from exploring further.

Weather Dependent: Since rovers are solar powered, they are highly weather dependent. If there are storms the rover may lose connection due to dust settling on its solar panels.

Non-Human: Finally, rovers lack human intelligent decision making and dexterity skills, making tasks a bit more difficult to perform. They also can’t compare to the work a human could perform if they are the ones traversing the planet [77].

History of Rovers in Space

1970

Lunokhod 1

Lunokhod 1 was the first successful remote-controlled rover to land on an extraterrestrial body by Soviet Union after the failed launch of the Lunokhod 0. It had X-ray tools and solar batteries that were recharged during lunar days. It operated for 10 days and travelled around 10 km [78].

1973

Lunokhod 2 was the more advanced of the Lunokhod rovers. Its primary mission was to collect images, examine the light levels to see if astronomical observation could be performed from the moon and other experiments with the moon's surface [79]. Lunokhod 2 operated for about four months and travelled around 40 km. It actually held the record for the longest distance travelled. It sent back 86 panoramic images and over 80,000 television pictures [80].

1977

The Lunokhod 3 was planned for 1977 but unfortunately was cancelled due to lack of funding. One interesting fact about the Lunokhod design is how it helped in disaster recovery after the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown in 1986 [81]. Since regular equipment was too heavy to operate on the collapsed reactor building and workers could not work due to radiation, the Lunokhod designers were invited to remake the rovers [82]. Their systems were partly resistant to radiation and two rovers were quickly built to help with clearing debris. This is a prime example of using telerobotics in disaster recovery work.

1997

NASA’s Sojourner was an experimental rover to Mars. It was used as a way to test the technology created by NASA and to see how it would perform on Mars [83]. It allowed NASA to confirm whether what they are building is actually useful and whether it will withstand the environment on Mars. With the information collected by Sojourner they were able to make changes and identify improvements for later rover missions[84].

2003

In 2003, a duo of rovers were launched to Mars by NASA. They were called Spirit and Opportunity and they were launched at the same time. Their mission was to identify whether or not there is any evidence of water presence on Mars [85]. Spirit actually became stuck in soil and NASA was unable to get it back on track. It was repurposed as a stationary robot and collected data that can uniquely be collected by stationary rovers until 2010 [86].

2011

Opportunity, unlike Spirit, carried on longer until 2018 and together with the freshly launched Curiosity rover in 2011 they began searching for evidence of past life on Mars, any fossils and organic carbon presence [87].

2013

The first Yutu rover was launched by the Chinese space agency. However, it suffered some operational difficulties which made it immobile upon its arrival on the moon. It acted mainly as a stationary robot on the moon’s surface and was still able to deliver some useful data [88].

2018

The updated Yutu 2 rover was launched in 2018 and is still operating to this day. It is the first rover to traverse the moon’s far side. One of its accomplishments include breaking the record for a rover’s longevity on the moon. Yutu 2 also delivered useful analysis on lunars internal architecture and atmosphere [89].

NASA Perseverance Rover

2020

During the July Launch Windows, NASA launched the latest Perseverance rover to Mars. It has a similar mission to previous rovers, but an important addition to this one is a helicopter called Ingenuity that will be used during the mission [90]. It will also be able to collect samples that can be brought back to Earth on a potential return mission [91].

Future of Rovers in Space

Although sending rovers has expanded the human knowledge of the Moon and Mars, the time lag due to the distance between Earth and other planets prevents proper communication. For example, there can be a time delay of anywhere between 3 and 20 minutes in our communication with rovers on Mars depending on the planet’s location in relation to Earth [92]. The answer to this problem is telerobotics in orbit, which is when trained astronauts orbiting a planet can land rovers on the surface and operate them with little to no time delay [93]. This allows for better decision making and research because humans can direct the robot to do exactly as they say live and receive the feedback from the robot live. This will change the way that the rover collects samples and makes the decisions since a person will notice things of interest and can redirect the robot to a different action faster.

Haptic Technology: Another important addition to telerobotics in orbit is haptic technology. It is also known as “3D touch,” which is technology that creates the experience of touch through the use of force, vibrations and motions to the user [94]. In addition to live feedback astronauts will be able to feel what the robot is feeling, making the experience more immersive and detailed.

Social Change and Issues

It is difficult to predict what impacts telepresence will have on society in the future. It seems reasonable, however, that as technology continues to become more prevalent in all facets of life, telepresence and telerobotics will eventually become integral to the way in which we work, learn and live. Telerobotics will continue to be used in various applications, anything from inside a classroom to deep underground. As the technology becomes cheaper, more efficient, and more reliable it will be adapted for purposes we may not be able to foresee.

One possible issue with widespread adoption of telepresence is the impact that it will have on labour markets. While Telepresence robots may replace workers who would otherwise be working dangerous jobs, it’s possible that this dangerous job was these workers’ best option for employment, and the relatively high-pay may be the only way they can provide for their families.

Another issue relating to the job market is that if highly-skilled work like surgical operations can be outsourced to specialists in other countries, this will discourage people from within that country to pursue it as their career. This would likely have the largest impact on developing nations, where there are already fewer skilled professionals. In 2015, it was proven that there is a risk for telepresence robots to be hacked. Security experts were able to hack into a telesurgery robot, illustrating an obvious potential for harm. [95] Despite this, the possible benefits greatly outweigh the risks, and there is reason to be optimistic that telepresence and telepresence robots will have a positive impact on society. This sort of hacking could also be used for corporate sabotage. And hacking into robots and devices cameras creates a risk for privacy invasion. Like all major societal shifts, this indoctrination of telerobotics into the fabric of culture will come with some growing pains, and we will eventually adapt to these new conditions.

Authors

Christophe de Haas Lili Chen Ruan Luke Henke Sonya Smirnova Thanh Thanh Tran
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

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