Robot sensors and vision system
Robert sensors are essential for robot intelligence. We have made use of several sensor technologies include fibre optic sensors, optoelectronic sensors, pneumatic sensors and MEMS sensors. We have developed a range of novel sensors for robotics applications, including proximity sensors, force sensors, tactile sensors and stereo vision system. We have integrated force/torque and tactile sensing array into robots and prosthetic hands. These sensors have been developed through a number of projects over three decades with funding from the university, industry, governments and EU. We have also been applying machine learning and AI to enhance the sensor functionalities and performance in real applications.
We have adopted a systematic and interdisciplinary approach to study the human cognition as the foundation of cognitive robots. Comprehensive theory and models of cognition have been developed based on both theoretical and experimental studies of neuroscience and human cognition, including perception, knowledge representation, inference and learning. Two PhD projects have been completed in this area, utilising the fMRI, EEG and also artificial neural modelling techniques. We are continuing to explore the foundation, development and applications of cognitive robotics, including advanced machine learning, knowledge representation, natural language processing and explainable AI.
Robot based 3D printing platform for sustainable manufacturing
Additive manufacturing (3D printing) has established as a core technology for future digital manufacturing. Since 2017 we have been developing an industrial robot-based 3D printing platform for sustainable furniture manufacturing, which is integrated with generative design and online inspection. The project is sponsored by an EPSRC DTP PhD Studentship. The platform can be extended for wider smart and sustainable manufacturing.
Collaborative/interactive robotics for smart manufacturing
Collaborative robots are increasingly used in industries, healthcare and scientific research. We have been developing and applying collaborative robotics to implement digital and Industry 4.0 transformations of traditional manufacturing. We have recently been awarded an KTP grant by Innovate UK to help an SME to transform their manufacturing using collaborative robots and lean manufacturing. We have been also exploring the applications of collaborative robotics in healthcare and medical field.
Robots for measurements, inspection and maintenance
Robots have been increasingly used for measurements, inspection and maintenance, offering the accuracy, speed, flexibility and ability to operate in challenging environments. We have mainly focused on measurement robots and continuum robots.
In measurement robots (aka coordinate measuring machines), we have developed over the years a range of sensors for automated dimensional inspection, including contact sensors, noncontact sensors and stereo vision systems. We have also developed virtual measurement robots, which is currently extended to digital-twins of measurement robots. We have applied advanced error modelling and machine learning to enhance the measurement robot performance.
Continuum robots (aka snake-like robots), composed of multiple small-diameter bendable sections, are promising for operation in confined spaces (e.g. nuclear facility decommissioning, aircraft maintenance and minimally invasive surgery). Our expertise in this area is focused on those with an extra slender structure (i.e. diameter-to-length ratio < 0.02 with at least meter-like length), which is unique as it not only brings challenges in the design stage, but also the modelling and control in a precise way. We have developed the physical prototype of an extra slender continuum robot that has been demonstrated with high TRL (>5), providing a promising solution for in-situ inspection and maintenance operations.
We have developed surgery robots, soft robots and capsule robots for medical applications.
Robotic technology in surgical therapy has demonstrated accurate and consistent tool trajectories in contrast with manual intervention. Our research focuses on controlling tool-point interaction precisely in small tissue targets. Hand supported devices are within this scope. Unique autonomous sensor-controlled processes discriminate different tool working conditions/ tissues, the state of the tool-point/ tissue interaction and behaviour. This is used to enhance control by the surgeon in real-time relative to tissue position and produces consistent results. The devices require little set-up time and other infrastructure in the operating room. This approach offers great benefit as small tissue targets are often attempted working through difficult access.
Recently, robotic surgical devices such as da Vinci surgery system take advantages of cutting-edge robot technology leading to tremendous advancement in stable and safe MIS (minimally invasive surgery). However, due to their rigid structure and the low degrees of freedom, such medical devices require a large motion workspace to perform surgical operations. These devices have limited ability to pass and manoeuvre inside small openings and confined spaces. To overcome these limitations, we have developed a soft manipulator and a flexible manipulator integrating shape and force sensing units.
Miniaturised capsule robots
Capsule robots, composed of a locomotion module and several functional modules (e.g. camera, wireless communication, power and drug), are very promising for early diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal (GI) diseases. Our expertise in this area is primarily focused on the active locomotion and drug delivery modules, which not only allow capsule robots self-propelling and docking at the area of interest for diagnosing (e.g. image detection), but also have other functions such as biopsy and drug release.
Legged robots with two or multiple legs are the most promising among ground robots for locomotion flexibility as compared with the wheeled and tracked counterparts. Our expertise in this area is mainly focused on the biped and hexapod robots with special designs based on parallel mechanisms. Thanks to the unique advantages of parallel mechanisms, the elaborated biped robot is capable of walking stably with a payload of approx. 3 times its weight, while the hexapod robot can perform advanced walking and machining operations in extreme environments (e.g. nuclear facility).