Fetch Mobile Manipulator – Programming Link Lab’s First Personal Robot; Investigation of Sociotechnical Relationships between Autonomous Robots and Humans

Chirimar, Utkarsh, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Behl, Madhur, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

People perform mundane tasks on a daily basis. These mundane tasks include stacking chairs, organizing rooms, erasing whiteboards, folding laundry, etc. These tasks all hold great importance, but they take up a lot of time and effort. Mundane tasks have a lasting effect on human beings. It has been proven that mundane tasks cause psychological distress on people. One solution to this problem is to develop autonomous robots that can accurately perform simple human tasks. As technology evolves and improves rapidly, we are capable of building such robots with high precision to handle mundane activities. The focus of the technical project is to program the Fetch mobile manipulator, an autonomous robot, to perform a simple, mundane task, such as erasing a whiteboard. When building autonomous robots, we always need to consider the effects it will have on its environments. Every new technology that is released tends to have a great impact on people’s daily lives. Therefore, the project will also focus on the effect of introducing autonomous robots in differing environments. The goal is to learn from the research of how robots have an impact on their environments to ensure proper considerations when designing the program for Fetch.
Autonomous robots are being built and researched to help humans with their daily tasks. As technology is evolving, many tasks in manufacturing plants have already been autonomized, from building a car to making and packaging a box of ice cream. However, many warehouse and office tasks are still done by human-workers, which can become tedious and tiring to them. This project aims to create such a robot that can complete daily tasks in the Link Lab. In order to achieve the end goal, the Fetch mobile manipulator, a high-performance robot, is used. The Fetch robot has many commercial applications, and the primary interest of the robot is shelf picking. With the selection of the sensors on the robot, it can accurately avoid obstacles, navigate, and manipulate its environment. Aside from the sensors, the Fetch comes equipped with a robotic arm, which can be used for the manipulation of its surroundings. With the use of Robot Operating System (ROS), the project programs the Fetch to autonomously navigate through the Link Lab’s arena without colliding with any static and dynamic obstacles. The end goal of the project is to program the Fetch to approach a whiteboard and completely erase it. Within the next few years, the Fetch should become the first human-like assistant in the Link Lab.
This portfolio also explores the effect of introducing autonomous robots in home and office areas on humans, and vice versa. The posed research question is: What do engineers need to consider when building autonomous robots for all environments? With a huge spike in technology, there are many robots and voice assistants that have been released. These robots are advertised as objects that will help easen up certain tasks for its users, but do they really improve people’s lives? This cause and effect relationship is what is explored in this paper. The Interactive Sociotechnical Analysis (ISTA) framework is used to analyze these relationships, as it has been used before to examine the relationship between a robot used in a hospital. It is expected to see that there are mistakes being made by, both, consumers and producers with regards to using/developing the autonomous robots. Sometimes humans make mistakes in operating or even understanding these technologies, which leads to failures. Sometimes manufacturers do not anticipate all the issues that could arise with their products, which ends up hurting people’s productivity when using the technology. I will investigate if such issues arise, by whom are they caused, and what can be done in the future to improve satisfaction of introducing autonomy in people’s daily lives.
By working on both the projects simultaneously, I can apply the knowledge gained from both projects onto each other. For instance, for all the case studies and final conclusion as to what engineers need to consider when designing autonomous robots, I am able to learn what I need to ensure in my own robot design and functions when it will interact with the Link Lab. Moreover, I am able to witness how the Fetch is able to move and locate itself in the lab itself and see how people have reacted to the robot as it is moving around. Both the projects go hand-in-hand and help me gain another level of perspective that would not be achieved if they were worked on separately.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
autonomous robots, fetch mobile manipulator, sociotechnical relationships, human-robot

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Madhur Behl
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook

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