Aerial Workers for Infrastructure and Asset Maintenance: The journey from “Lab” to “Real-World”


The ongoing inquiry within research communities revolves around bridging the gap between the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) industry’s infrastructure and Industry 4.0, with the overarching goal of preserving invaluable assets in an operational and safe state. The primary objectives are to mitigate costs associated with O&M operations and to enhance safety and speed in asset management. To meet these objectives, research has delved into automation technologies, particularly focusing on inspection and aerial manipulation.

This workshop explores the synergy of three key research pillars critical for aerial inspection and manipulation use-cases: Intelligent Mechatronics, Artificial Intelligence, and Human-Machine Interaction. Researchers and engineers arededicated to devising novel approaches that enhance the robustness of these technologies under but not limited to real-world industrial environments. This includes addressing challenges such as applying relevant forces for tool manipulation and ensuring robust perception in featureless and light-challenging environments.

Furthermore, the workshop explores unique human-centered directions, tackling scientific issues to enhance themaneuverability of remote aerial manipulation and inspection. Developments in immersive technologies, including augmented and mixed reality for damage assessment by remote experts, as well as collaborative human-machine intelligence for supported criticality evaluations, are extensively discussed.

The overarching objective of this workshop is to confront these challenges head-on and offer a comprehensive overview of the skills and competences crucial in the industry that would be further enhanced by training the audience in the form of real-time follow-along interactive tutorials. The outcome aims to have a tangible impact on thecommunity by fostering innovation and addressing pressing issues in the interface between O&M and Industry 4.0.

Workshop Structure
The Workshop is divided into three distinct sessions. These three sessions are designed to comprehensively address the core modules for teleoperation of aerial platforms dedicated to maintenance (by employing aerial manipulation) and inspection purposes. The Workshop will employ a multifaceted approach, incorporating insightful tutorials, engaging talks, and interactive poster presentations.

The tutorials are crafted with the intention of facilitating hands-on, interactive learning experiences, allowingparticipants to gain insights of relevant technologies. Complementing this, the talks will offer a broader perspective on the various learning topics, providing participants with a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.

To foster a dynamic and interactive environment, posters have been incorporated into the Workshop agenda. These poster presentations serve as an additional avenue for researchers to actively engage in discussions with both their peers and workshop speakers, encouraging knowledge exchange and collaborative exploration. This interactive element is particularly emphasized during designated coffee breaks, providing ample opportunities for meaningful networking and idea-sharing.

Workshop Outline
The primary objective is to familiarize participants with distinct components and modules integral to aerial telemanipulation for inspection and maintenance. Within this framework, the workshop aims to offer a comprehensive overview of the diverse technologies relevant to bridging the identified gap. To achieve this goal, the Workshop outlines several key learning objectives:

  • SESSION 1: Control challenges and innovations in aerial tasks
    This session presents the advancements in the control of multirotor UAVs in the manipulation and inspection tasks, to address the present and future challenges comprehensively. The challenges arising from the industrial demands for contact-based inspection and tool manipulation are discussed from the perspectives of stability, safety, wrench control, maneuverability, adaptability, and flexibility. From the view of safety and stability, a generic control design for UAVs inthe presence of disturbances and a few key ideas for enforcing safety through barrier functions are presented. Further, thecontrol challenges involved in aerial manipulation for contact-based inspection are discussed from the outlook of wrenchcontrol and compensation for reaction forces. Subsequently, the applicability of high-force manipulation in inspectionand maintenance tasks, and their current limitations are discussed, and their potential solutions are introduced. On the view of maneuverability, the practical disadvantages of underactuated UAVs, and how a higher degree of control and operational freedom is achieved using omnidirectional UAVs are presented. Along the same line, a notion of flexibility in aerial manipulation is introduced in the interactions with movable parts of a body. Finally, the capabilities of soft morphing UAVs in enhancing the adaptability and applicability of aerial inspection and maintenance tasks are presented.

    Method: The tutorial begins with an introduction to real-time challenges in designing a controller for a UAV. Thedevelopment of the controller for UAV is explained sequentially. The participants will be provided with a GIT link and a Docker container with the necessary tools to test the controllers by altering the parameters. Throughout this tutorial,the participants will understand the applications and use-cases of different controllers, and their practical limitations. The session aims to provide learnings in the following areas:
    • Tutorial 1 Robust and adaptive control techniques for UAVs for disturbance rejection, and safety guarantees through barrier functions.
    • Poster 1.1 Challenges in aerial manipulation for tasks involving interactions with the external environment.
    • Poster 1.2 Limits and Solutions towards high force tool manipulation with aerial robots.
    • Talk 1.1 Omnidirectional UAVs and their applications in aerial manipulation and inspection tasks.
    • Talk 1.2 Design and control of aerial robots for infrastructure and pipeline inspection, and manipulation of flexible elements.
    • Talk 1.3 Soft morphing aerial robots for navigation through confined spaces, landing on complex places, and dynamic grasping of objects.
  • SESSION 2: Advancements in User Interfaces and Collaborative Capabilities for Drone Remote Teleoperation
    This session highlights the pivotal role of human operators, emphasizing how user interfaces and the effective management of remote feedback can significantly enhance the performance of aerial operations. The session will start exploring the collaborative potential between humans and drones, exploring advanced user interfaces and shared control algorithms that amplify UAV capabilities and reduce pilot workload. Additionally, state-of-the-art technologies such as the transformative impact of advanced displays, integrated with motion parallax and object-level maps are explored for heightened efficiency in remote inspection tasks. Expanding on the operator feedback perspective, the session also presents Vision Sensors and Machine Learning Techniques tailored for precise Civil Structural DefectIdentification across diverse environmental conditions. Concluding with a practical focus, participants will gain hands-on insights into teleoperation interfaces for aerial manipulators, and the use and configuration of sample interfaces within simulated environments.

    Method The tutorial will start with a brief introduction to user interfaces. Following this, a sample use-case will be introduced, featuring a simulator alongside a proposed user interface. To facilitate participation, the necessary software will be made available through a Git repository and a Docker container. Throughout the tutorial, the speaker will guide participants, allowing dedicated time for active engagement. Participants are encouraged to follow along in real-time.The session aims to provide learnings in the following areas:
    • Tutorial 2 Explore teleoperation interfaces for aerial manipulators, emphasizing usability, human factors, anduser experience, providing guidance on usage and configuration for a sample use-case.
    • Poster 2.1 Focusing on perception for aerial robots, a poster will further introduce the concept of object-level maps. The presentation will discuss how interaction is a key in creating maps that not only give the robot access to the shape but also the structure of the world.
    • Talk 2.1 Shared control in human-drone collaboration, introducing a shared pilot experience module to address common control challenges, such as obstacle-free navigation, shared detection, and surface inspection.
    • Talk 2.2 Enhanced displays for immersive remote aerial operations and motion parallax integration with multi-view displays.
    • Talk 2.3 IA sensing in aerial inspections for Civil Structural Defect Identification, including Vision sensors and Machine Learning techniques.
  • SESSION 3: Teleoperation for aerial physical interaction
    This session will delve into the significance of haptic feedback in the context of aerial telemanipulation. A thorough tutorial will illustrate the crucial components and challenges associated with this subject. A key application of aerial telemanipulation involves intricate operations, such as contact-based inspections with time delay. Therefore, the discussion will extend to teleoperated UAV platforms, exploring their critical components, capabilities, advantages, and limitations in executing contact-based inspections, particularly in industry- specific scenarios. Lastly, the session will touch upon the vital aspects of communication, emphasizing 5G technology, and computational capabilities, specifically edge computing, essential for enabling high-precision teleoperation and inspection.

    Method The tutorial will start with a concise introduction to human interpretation of force feedback. The previous talks having presented pipelines, their involvement in time-delay for aerial telemanipulation will be shown. Following that, an application with an open-source 1 degree of freedom haptic device will be proposed. The simulation environment willbe presented, and the haptic bilateral framework will be discussed. The required software will be provided in advance, in the form of a GIT library and a Docker simulator. Throughout the tutorial, the audience is encouraged to activelyengage, follow the presented sections and try the real device.
    The session aims to provide learnings in the following areas:
    • Tutorial 3 Understanding the fundamentals of haptic feedback in telemanipulation applications and its connection to human perception.
    • Talk 3.1 Exploring challenges and practical limitations in real-world scenarios involving contact-based inspections with UAVs.
    • Talk 3.2 Introducing the concept of cloud-based application offloading to optimize application performance in telemanipulation scenarios.
    • Talk 3.3 Introduction to 5G networks as the foundational communication component in telemanipulation, highlighting practical challenges and potential solutions.

Target Audience
This tutorial is designed for a diverse audience, with a primary focus on early-stage researchers and Ph.D. students, although it is not limited to them. The goal is to acquaint participants with various essential technologies needed foraerial manipulation and inspection, emphasizing their relevance and potential future developments. Throughout thetutorials, attendees can expect to gain valuable insights into state-of-the-art software packages and other pertinent aspects, providing a comprehensive understanding of the presented technologies and their broader implications.