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board, the local control electronics occupies only a small physical area in it. We obviously don t want to cut off pieces of the board that contain control electronics. This suggests that the control electronics should be put on the board so as to simplify the cutting for typical surfaces. Another related problem is that, electrically, sensors present a load on control electronics. Cutting off some sensors changes that load, and so the control electronics should be able to handle this. 5. The arm s interaction with its environment brings additional constraints. Consider an environment where the robot arm may be hit by sharp hard objects. Without extra precautions, this environment will likely rule out an infraredsensitive skin: Whereas these sensors have enviably high resolution and accuracy, the tiny optical lenses sitting in front of every sensor make them brittle. A better option then may be capacitance sensors: While not particularly accurate, they are quite rugged. On the other hand, covering the infrared sensitive skin with a layer of transparent epoxy or a similar compound may still warrant its use in a harsh environment. The epoxy will pass sensors optical beams while mechanically protecting the skin from the environment. This measure would also help in tasks where the arm is periodically covered with dirt and has to be washed, such as in cleaning chemical and nuclear dump sites. Because the content of such sites presents a danger for human workers, robots are good candidates for the cleaning job.4 Often the material that is to be evacuated from cleanup sites is inside large metal or concrete tanks. The robot arm has to enter the tank through a relatively small opening. Careful motion planning for the whole body of the arm is very important: A small deviation from the opening s center can spell a collision, and this may happen at various points of the robot body, depending on how deep into the tank opening the arm has to move. The operation calls for dextrous motion, which in turn requires a good resolution of the sensitive skin. Infrared sensors provide the requisite characteristics; the problem is, however, that sensors on the skin will be quickly covered with dirt. A transparent layer of protective epoxy will allow one to quickly wash off the dirt from the arm. 6. Speci c applications can add their own constraints on the choice of sensitive skin components. Given their decent accuracy and physical ruggedness, arrays with tiny sonar sensors may be a good candidate for the skin. A sonarstudded sensitive skin cannot be used, however, in space applications, for the simple reason that sound does not spread outside the atmosphere. The above need to wash off dirt from the skin is also such a constraint. Another example is applications with unusual levels of radiation. Space robots must be able to withstand space radiation. Hence only radiation-hardened components will do the job for a sensitive skin intended for space applications.
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Control Electronics. Depending on the physical principle of sensors chosen for the sensitive skin, appropriate control schemes must be chosen. Ordinarily, skin
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The multi-billion cleanup Superfund project in the United States in the mid-1990s had a provision for utilizing robotics.
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sensors produce analog electric signals. Before those signals are passed to the robot computer and used by motion planning algorithms, they have to be cleaned of noise, perhaps brought to some standard form, and turned into the digital form using an analog-to-digital transformation. This is done by the skin control electronics. Ideally, this could be done by an appropriate tiny control unit built into each sensor. Today an electronic control unit will likely handle a group of sensors, say an n-by-n sensor subarray, thereby allowing an easy scaling up of the skin device. The unit also takes care of polling the whole subarray, identifying sensors that sense something in front of them, collecting information about their physical coordinates on the robot body, and passing this information to the robot brain for making decisions on collision-free motion. How often the polling is done depends on the robot joint motors sampling rate: 20 to 50 times per second are typical polling frequencies for large arm manipulators. Larger groups of sensors and control components are united under the control of local computer microprocessors, forming a hierarchical control system. Such architecture frees the brain computer for more intelligent work, and it allows scaling up the system to practically any number of sensors on the skin. We now turn to an example of implementation of the sensitive skin concept. Space shortage will not allow us to cover all the questions that an electronics professional may have. Appropriate references will be given. The intent here is to give an idea of how the sensing skin hardware can be approached. 8.3 SKIN DESIGN The large-area skin versions built so far are all based on optical (infrared, IR) sensors; other sensors are still waiting for their implementation in a sensitive skin. The main reason for choosing infrared sensors is the best resolution one can get with them compared to other sensors. This advantage may overweigh the drawbacks of IR sensors, such as their mechanical brittleness or their inability to measure distances at a short range. Other than this similarity, the projects carried out so far have differed in the speci cations of sensors and other electronic components, in overall physical and electrical architecture of skin sections, implementation of the control scheme and robot intelligence, the mechanical installation of components on the skin (such as direct soldering or surface mounting), and so on. (For details, see references in Section 8.1 and citations therein.) As mentioned above, an infrared sensor is an active sensing device. Each sensor presents a pair consisting of a light-emitting diode (LED) and a light detector. When initiated, the LED sends in space in front of it a beam of directed infrared light. The associated light detector detects the re ected light. If a noticeable amount of re ected light has been detected, the system assumes it was re ected from an object located in front of the sensor.5 The LED light beam is of a conical
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In principle, a signal detected by the detector in the sensor pair X can be the light sent by an LED of some other sensor pair Y and re ected in a wrong direction by an object positioned in front
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