Professors at BYU are working to improve micro-robot teams used in the U.S. Army that provide soldiers with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information while in the field.
Start: September 8, 2014
End: September 7, 2015
- Sponsor: US Army Research Laboratory, Human Research & Engineering Directorate
- Principal Investigator: Mark Colton
- Co-PI: Michael Goodrich
BYU professors Mark Colton and Michael Goodrich are currently working to enhance the communications between soldiers and teams of micro-robots in the field. Sponsored by the U.S. Army, this research is founded on the use of small robots that are sent out in urban areas to assist squads of soldiers in providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information, commonly known as ISR. This information is essential in a mission, and the use of micro-robots allows army units to gain access to this information in areas that are otherwise unreachable by larger machines and technologies. Using the robots protects squads by allowing them to send in the robots for surveillance instead of heading into combat zones themselves. These micro-robots are becoming micro-soldiers as they become a crucial facet in today’s combat tactics.
One of the issues that the troops have with these micro-robots is that operating them usually requires that a soldier’s attention is fully occupied in controlling the bands of robot. Thus, other teammates have to protect the controller while he is literally “heads-down” in potentially vulnerable situations. Dr. Colton and Dr. Goodrich are specifically working on how to improve this way of communication to allow a soldier to maintain control over the robots, easily access the information being surveyed in the field, and keep his head up in potentially dangerous situations.
Unlike previous research, this work is specifically directed on understanding how haptic feedback can impact the use of visual displays for the soldier. Haptic feedback is a technology that synthetically creates the sense of touch to a user. This is commonly done through vibrations or movement to compensate for interacting with something that is not actually tangible, but instead virtual. A good example of this is pushing a button on a touch screen or smart phone. Often, the phone will slightly vibrate when a button is pushed on a virtual keyboard to make up for the fact that the user is not pushing an actual keyboard, although the phone makes the user feel like he is. This recreation of sense and feeling gives accurate and familiar feedback to the user and can enhance communication between human touch and technology.
The researchers will work on recognizing what information can be effectively used with haptic feedback, and also through visual commands from the soldier, and what kind of hardware will work best in combat situations. Simulations will then be conducted to find what can best improve the two-way communication between the soldiers and robots.
The results of this research and the development of this technology will directly benefit the U.S. Army’s implementation of micro-robots in combat and surveillance. The army has been proactively working to improve the risks involved with the micro-robot technology in use today, and this research joins that effort to improve the safety of U.S. troops. The work that Dr. Colton and Dr. Goodrich are doing to improve two-way communication between soldiers and micro-robots will enhance their reconnaissance and communication capabilities and increase their safety while conducting diverse military operations.