AUSTIN, Texas—A mechanical engineering professor at The University of Texas at Austin has received a five-year, $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue developing advanced robotics to handle hazardous tasks associated with nuclear materials.
The continuing grant to Dr. Delbert Tesar, director of the Robotics Research Group at the university, comes through a consortium with the University of Tennessee, the University of Florida, the University of Michigan and the University of New Mexico. The University of Texas at Austin will create standardized components to allow robotic systems to be assembled and monitored by someone with a high school education—a significant contribution to a field where most machinery must be operated by highly sophisticated, trained technicians. With this new set of funds, Tesar and his research group will fine-tune their technology’s ability to handle complex motions in a constrained environment.
Tesar’s standardized components consist of two systems. First, his “intelligent actuator” drives the robot and functions like a muscle. Second, his universal operating system software, called Operating Software Components for Advanced Robotics (OSCAR), functions as the machine’s central nervous system.
“In terms of economic importance and function of intelligent machines, the actuator is the equivalent of the computer chip,” says Tesar, “and OSCAR is the equivalent of Microsoft Windows. Their generality means they can apply to all applications of dexterous machines, like those used in manufacturing, construction, space, etc. Think of this as similar to computer assembly on demand by Dell. It’s the future of robotics, manufacturing systems, orthotics/prostheses, aircrafts, ships, and ultimately, cars.”
The entire system needed for handling hazardous wastes would consist of about 40 actuators that coordinate to perform complex motions. Using a machine to perform hazardous tasks related to working with nuclear reactors, waste site clean-up and the inspection and surveillance of nuclear materials would significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the risks to humans.
Tesar holds the Carol Cockrell Curran Chair in Engineering. He and Dr. Chetan Kapoor, associate director of the Robotics Research Group, are co-principal investigators of the grant.