Electrical and Computer EngineeringWestern Engineering

Robotics and Control

The Robotics and Control group consists of approximately 40 individuals in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at the University of Western Ontario (UWO). This number includes five faculty members and their graduate students, research assistants and postdoctoral fellows. In their Strategic Research Plans, the University of Western Ontario (UWO) as well Faculty of Engineering at UWO have recognized Advanced Robotics and Control as an area of research strength for the University and the Faculty. As a result, both UWO and the Faculty of Engineering are committed to further enhancing the research strength and reputation of UWO in this area. An example of this commitment is the nomination of Dr. Rajni Patel to a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Advanced Robotics and Control the success of which will also result in a junior tenure-track faculty position in the area. Recently, one member of the group, Dr. Jin Jiang, was appointed to an NSERC-UNENE Senior Industrial Research Chair in Instrumentation, Control and Electrical Power Systems in Nuclear Power Plants. The members of the group have also been assigned over 6,000 sq. ft. of research laboratory space for 6 laboratories in the new Thompson Engineering Building (TEB).

Control and Welding Research Laboratory website

AREAS OF STRENGTH

The current research projects in the group are at the leading edge of research in robotics and control systems and their practical applications. The emphasis in these projects is on innovative approaches that maintain a balance between theoretical developments and experimental verification/evaluation. The specific ongoing projects in the group are as follows:

  • Design and experimental implementation of control techniques robotic systems with flexibility in their joints and/or links. The use control strategies based on smart materials is of particular interest.
  • Design, simulation, prototyping, interfacing, and real-time control of advanced robotic systems such as single- and dual-arm dexterous redundant manipulators, and multi-modular manipulators.
  • Design and control of robotic systems and devices for minimally invasive surgery and therapy.
  • Development of motion planning and control strategies for mobile robots (operating individually or in clusters). Both conventional and intelligent (fuzzy logic and neural network based) techniques are of interest.
  • Fault detection and diagnosis in complex systems and design of fault-tolerant control.
  • Distributed control systems and control over networks
  • Fault-tolerant control of space craft
  • Advanced control of combustion processes for NOx reduction
  • Control systems for fuel cells
  • Hardware in the loop simulation of nuclear power plants
  • Adaptive CNC machine control with error compensations
  • Reliability and safety assessment in safety-critical systems
  • Advanced power system control
  • Software development for embedded and real-time control applications.
  • 3D graphics-based multi-robot simulation environments.
  • Virtual reality and haptics-based human-computer interaction.
  • Design of assistive devices for the blind based on wearable computing and visual servoing techniques
  • Welding control
  • Intermittent cancellation control

The above-mentioned projects highlight the key strengths of the researchers in the group in design, control and application of advanced robotic systems, use of smart materials and intelligent control techniques for vibration suppression in mechanical systems, fault-tolerant control, applications of modern control strategies in welding processes, design and applications of the next generation of mobile robotic systems including underwater robots. An area of particular interest as well as research effort is in exploring robotic and other mechatronic applications in surgery and therapy. In this context, it is worth mentioning that one of the members of the group, Dr. Patel is a principal investigator in Canadian Surgical Technologies and Advanced Robotics (CSTAR), a centre that has been recently established by the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) with over $17 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust (CFI-OIT) and the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund (ORDCF). CSTAR’s mandate is to promote research in robotics-based minimally invasive surgery and therapy. Dr. Jiang works very closely with utility companies in the development of new control and instrumentation for nuclear plants. The support for this project alone is over $2 million dollars.

FACULTY

RESEARCH FACILITIES

Members of the group have been very successful in getting infrastructure funding to establish state-of-the-art research facilities some of which are unique and do not exist at any other university in Canada. In the new Thompson Engineering Building, the group will have over 6,000 sq. ft. of space. This will be in the form of the following research laboratories:

  • A Robotics and Real-Time Systems Laboratory (~2,000 sq. ft.).
  • A Visualization and Virtual Reality Laboratory (~2,000 sq. ft.).
  • A Distributed Intelligent Systems Laboratory (~600 sq. ft.).
  • A Robot Welding Laboratory (~400 sq. ft.).
  • A Mobile Robotics and Computer Vision Laboratory (600 sq. ft.).
  • Control, Instrumentation and Electrical Systems Laboratory (600 sq. ft.).

The Visualization and Virtual Reality Laboratory and the Distributed Intelligent Systems Laboratory have been funded by Infrastructure support from CFI-OIT and industry. The Visualization and Virtual Reality Laboratory contains a high-performance SGI ONYX 3400 computer system with a Fakespace Immersadesk R2 virtual-reality display. The Laboratory also has a Cyberware 3D colour laser scanning system. The Distributed Intelligent Systems Laboratory has state-of-the-art real-time control facilities including MATLAB/SIMULINK and its various toolboxes, the RT-LAB environment (from OPAL-RT technologies) for rapid prototyping of embedded control algorithms, electronic measurement tools, 3 mobile robots, 11 UNIX and PC computer workstations, electronic amplifiers, logic analyzers, and tools for developing and prototyping embedded computer control applications.

The Robotics and Real-Time Systems Laboratory has several robotics systems, two of which are 7-DOF redundant manipulators constructed as part of major NSERC funded joint projects with Dr. Angeles’ group at McGill University. The Laboratory also has several haptic devices – three (Phantoms) from Sensable Technologies and one (CyberGrasp) from Immersion Technologies. The Laboratory is well equipped for research in the design and control of robotic systems and on teleoperation using haptics interaction.

The Mobile Robotics and Computer vision lab (shared between Dr. McIsaac and Dr. Jagath Samarabandu, also of the department) is dedicated to research integrating the use of computer vision and image processing techniques with mobile robotics. The lab contains PC workstations, a fleet of mobile robots, and a trinocular stereo vision system and is currently being instrumented with a locally designed and developed ultrasound positioning system for mobile robotics applications. The lab is currently home to 11 graduate students.

The Control, Instrumentation and Electrical Systems Laboratory houses a nuclear power plant simulator running on a HP Alpha server, a Delta V industrial version of Distributed Control System (DCS), several control system experimentation and simulation tools, such as MATRIXx, Matlab and a number of micro-machines and basic instrumentation systems. The lab also has a real-time heart sound recorder to support advanced signal processing research for heart sound. There are 10 workstations and PCs for various research projects.

COLLABORATIONS AND INDUSTRY LINKS

The multidisciplinary nature of the research activities pursued by members of the Robotics and Control group has resulted in collaborative activities with a number of researchers and organizations. The following are some examples of some of the ongoing collaborative activities:

  • Drs. Patel and Fenster (Robarts Research Institute (RRI)): This collaboration is on developing a 3D ultrasound guided robotic system for prostate brachytherapy. The research is supported by an NSERC Collaborative Health Research Project grant (PI: Dr. R. Patel).
  • Dr. Patel is collaborating with researchers at CSTAR (LHSC) on developing haptic technology for robot-assisted minimally invasive surgical systems. This research is funded by a CFI-OIT infrastructure grant and by a grant form the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund.
  • Dr. Patel has an ongoing collaboration with Dr. J. Angeles (McGill University) for over 12 years on design, construction, interfacing, and real-time control of several advanced robotic systems, the most recent being the development of a large-scale macro-micro manipulator system. The latter has been installed at NRC-IMTI. Further work is continuing in collaboration with Dr. Ostojic (NRC-IMTI) on developing advanced control techniques for this system.
  • Dr. Patel is collaborating with Dr. Ostojic on the use of smart materials for flexure control in robot manipulators.
  • Dr. McIsaac is collaborating with Dr. Jagath Samarabandu (ECE Dept. – Information Engineering Group) on an IRIS funded project to develop prototype assistive devices for the blind.
  • Dr. Jiang is collaborating with Dr. Orban of IMTI on machine controls and tool diagnosis.
  • Dr. Jiang is also collaborating with Dr. Guanjun Liu and Bin Wu of Ryerson University in the area of fault-tolerant control of aircraft and fuel cell based power sources.
  • Recently, research collaboration has been established with the Japan Space Agency to develop fault tolerant control of space vehicles.

RESEARCH FUNDING

The infrastructure and manpower funding received by the Robotics and Control group during the last five years is among the highest (if not the highest) in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. This funding includes NSERC Discovery and equipment grants, NSERC Strategic Projects and Collaborative Health Research Projects grants, an ORDCF grant, and funds from Imperial Oil, MMO, and two Networks of Centres of Excellence – Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems and AUTO-21.). Two members of the group (Drs. Patel and Moallem) were project leaders on two infrastructure proposals (amounting to over $2.3 million) funded by CFI-OIT. The total amount of infrastructure and manpower funding received by the group members (as Principal or Co-Investigators) over the last five years amounts to over $5.5million.

Two of the group members have been recognized as outstanding researchers by being awarded NSERC Discovery grants in the top 5% of all grant recipients in Engineering. The group members have also recently authored three state-of-the-art monographs in their areas of expertise in advanced robotics and control systems.