Towards edge robotics: the progress from cloud-based robotic systems to intelligent and context-aware robotic services

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Current robotic systems handle a different range of applications such as video surveillance, delivery of goods, cleaning, material handling, assembly, painting, or pick and place services. These systems have been embraced not only by the general population but also by the vertical industries to help them in performing daily activities. Traditionally, the robotic systems have been deployed in standalone robots that were exclusively dedicated to performing a specific task such as cleaning the floor in indoor environments. In recent years, cloud providers started to offer their infrastructures to robotic systems for offloading some of the robot’s functions. This ultimate form of the distributed robotic system was first introduced 10 years ago as cloud robotics and nowadays a lot of robotic solutions are appearing in this form. As a result, standalone robots became software-enhanced objects with increased reconfigurability as well as decreased complexity and cost. Moreover, by offloading the heavy processing from the robot to the cloud, it is easier to share services and information from various robots or agents to achieve better cooperation and coordination. Cloud robotics is suitable for human-scale responsive and delay-tolerant robotic functionalities (e.g., monitoring, predictive maintenance). However, there is a whole set of real-time robotic applications (e.g., remote control, motion planning, autonomous navigation) that can not be executed with cloud robotics solutions, mainly because cloud facilities traditionally reside far away from the robots. While the cloud providers can ensure certain performance in their infrastructure, very little can be ensured in the network between the robots and the cloud, especially in the last hop where wireless radio access networks are involved. Over the last years advances in edge computing, fog computing, 5G NR, network slicing, Network Function Virtualization (NFV), and network orchestration are stimulating the interest of the industrial sector to satisfy the stringent and real-time requirements of their applications. Robotic systems are a key piece in the industrial digital transformation and their benefits are very well studied in the literature. However, designing and implementing a robotic system that integrates all the emerging technologies and meets the connectivity requirements (e.g., latency, reliability) is an ambitious task. This thesis studies the integration of modern Information andCommunication Technologies (ICTs) in robotic systems and proposes some robotic enhancements that tackle the real-time constraints of robotic services. To evaluate the performance of the proposed enhancements, this thesis departs from the design and prototype implementation of an edge native robotic system that embodies the concepts of edge computing, fog computing, orchestration, and virtualization. The proposed edge robotics system serves to represent two exemplary robotic applications. In particular, autonomous navigation of mobile robots and remote-control of robot manipulator where the end-to-end robotic system is distributed between the robots and the edge server. The open-source prototype implementation of the designed edge native robotic system resulted in the creation of two real-world testbeds that are used in this thesis as a baseline scenario for the evaluation of new innovative solutions in robotic systems. After detailing the design and prototype implementation of the end-to-end edge native robotic system, this thesis proposes several enhancements that can be offered to robotic systems by adapting the concept of edge computing via the Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) framework. First, it proposes exemplary network context-aware enhancements in which the real-time information about robot connectivity and location can be used to dynamically adapt the end-to-end system behavior to the actual status of the communication (e.g., radio channel). Three different exemplary context-aware enhancements are proposed that aim to optimize the end-to-end edge native robotic system. Later, the thesis studies the capability of the edge native robotic system to offer potential savings by means of computation offloading for robot manipulators in different deployment configurations. Further, the impact of different wireless channels (e.g., 5G, 4G andWi-Fi) to support the data exchange between a robot manipulator and its remote controller are assessed. In the following part of the thesis, the focus is set on how orchestration solutions can support mobile robot systems to make high quality decisions. The application of OKpi as an orchestration algorithm and DLT-based federation are studied to meet the KPIs that autonomously controlledmobile robots have in order to provide uninterrupted connectivity over the radio access network. The elaborated solutions present high compatibility with the designed edge robotics system where the robot driving range is extended without any interruption of the end-to-end edge robotics service. While the DLT-based federation extends the robot driving range by deploying access point extension on top of external domain infrastructure, OKpi selects the most suitable access point and computing resource in the cloud-to-thing continuum in order to fulfill the latency requirements of autonomously controlled mobile robots. To conclude the thesis the focus is set on how robotic systems can improve their performance by leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to generate smart decisions. To do so, the edge native robotic system is presented as a true embodiment of a Cyber-Physical System (CPS) in Industry 4.0, showing the mission of AI in such concept. It presents the key enabling technologies of the edge robotic system such as edge, fog, and 5G, where the physical processes are integrated with computing and network domains. The role of AI in each technology domain is identified by analyzing a set of AI agents at the application and infrastructure level. In the last part of the thesis, the movement prediction is selected to study the feasibility of applying a forecast-based recovery mechanism for real-time remote control of robotic manipulators (FoReCo) that uses ML to infer lost commands caused by interference in the wireless channel. The obtained results are showcasing the its potential in simulation and real-world experimentation.
Robotic services, Edge computing, Fog computing, 5G, Orchestraton, Artifical inteligence, Machine learning, Federation, Experimental
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