Improving Robot-Environment Interaction

From Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

graphic representation of Improving Robot-Environment Interaction

This challenge seeks innovations that will improve robot interactions with either humans or changing environments.

Sponsoring Department: National Research Council (NRC)

Funding Mechanism: Contract

Opening date: November 23, 2018
Closing date: January 14, 2019, 14:00 Eastern Standard Time

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Challenge

Problem Statement

NRC does applied research and development in the field of human-machine interaction applied to human-robot collaborative tasks in manufacturing as well as to autonomous mobile systems. In this context, the application of the proper force by a robot is problematic. A robot interacting with objects or a human part of its environment through physical contact must apply appropriate forces and torques and must also adapt them to conditions that change with time, in a safe and stable manner. For example, a robot breaking an egg must adjust its behaviour so as not to damage the egg inside. Similarly, a robot applying a force on a human arm must be able to maintain this force while accommodating any unplanned movement. This challenge is at the core of considerable research in robotics and constitutes the state-of-the-art, whether for industrial applications or human-machine interaction.

While control algorithms exist to address this issue, their implementation onto a physical system requires that the mechanical portion of the system (joints and links) be as free from unwanted effects as possible. These effects can severely limit the performance and safety of the system as they introduce undesirable elements, thereby introducing additional considerations and complexity at the design and implementation stages. This challenge therefore seeks a system allowing a robot to apply adequate forces and torques when interacting with a human or an environment with changing conditions.

Desired outcomes and Considerations

The following elements constitute an overview of the challenge solution's desired characteristics.

Essential Outcomes

Proposed solutions must:

  • Allow an articulated mechanical structure having at least 3 degrees of freedom to apply a contact and a torque on a surface, to adapt this contact according to changes in surface conditions, and to execute movements while maintaining the specified contact.
  • Minimize effects attributed to elasticity (< 1mm deflections at the effector, > 20Hz vibrations), friction, backlash and other unwanted play in the components, through an innovative design. Minimization of these effects must come from the system's mechanics. In the case where the solution involves feedback control, performance must be demonstrated using commercially available components (Essential).
  • Be available in a compact form so as to easily actuate a robotic rotational joint. As a general guideline a length/width/depth ratio of «1» would be appropriate. For example, a first design could have dimensions of 10cmX10cmX10cm.
  • Allow for its integration with external controllers, whether experimental or commercial, by providing a standard interface (e.g. through an electronic servo drive).

Additional Outcomes

Proposed solutions should:

  • Be easily scalable, thus allowing force or torque generation over various ranges according to the application at hand. 3 levels of nominal output torques are suggested, namely:
    • 2Nm
    • 10Nm
    • 30Nm
  • Be robust to abrupt changes in force/torque, e.g. resulting from impacts at a non-negligible speed (> 0.1 m/s) or from emergency stops. 

Background and Context

Part of the NRC Aerospace Research Centre, the Automation and Robotics Group of the Aerospace Manufacturing Technology Centre performs applied research and development in the field of human-machine interaction applied to human-robot collaborative tasks in manufacturing as well as to autonomous mobile systems. In both these domains, it is desirable to perform force control which includes feedback to the operator as well as controlling system dynamics for stability/performance (e.g. by minimizing vibrations) and in order to provide additional feedback from the environment (e.g. proximity to obstacles using force fields).

While several approaches are currently being investigated, their implementation in a physical setup is to a great extent limited by the performance of the actuators involved. In order to provide the necessary torque profiles in a compact and light form factor suitable for use in collaborative robots or robots with a high payload/weight ratio, harmonic drives are typically used and are considered state-of-the industry in this respect. However, the trade-off in generating high torque ratios in a compact format results in elastic, vibrations and friction effects that compromises overall system and introducing additional dynamics that are notoriously difficult to address at the control stage. Furthermore, applications involving contact with the environment (including humans) and repeated safety stops have been reported to be detrimental to harmonic drives, negatively impacting their performance and damaging them in the long run. While good results can be obtained when the system is in free motion, performing tasks while in contact with the environment has to be achieved in a well-known environment, under performance-limiting conditions such as low-speed. A solution combining high-torque ratio in a compact format without the trade-off effects mentioned above would allow a broader performance envelope, increasing the system's range of forces that can be applied and rendered back to the user thus making the system more versatile and adaptable.

Maximum value and travel

Maximum contract value:

Multiple contracts could result from this Challenge.

The maximum funding available for any Phase 1 Contract resulting from this Challenge is $150,000.00 CAD (plus tax) including shipping, travel and living expenses, as applicable, for up to 6 months.

The maximum funding available for any Phase 2 Contract resulting from this Challenge is $700,000.00 CAD (plus tax) including shipping, travel and living expenses, as applicable, for up to 2 years. Only eligible businesses that have completed Phase 1 could be considered for Phase 2.

This disclosure is made in good faith and does not commit Canada to contract for the total approximate funding.

Travel:

For Phase 1 it is anticipated that two meetings will require the successful bidder(s) to travel to the location identified below:

Kick-off meeting: Montreal, Quebec

Final Review Meeting: Montreal, Quebec

All other communication should occur via phone or videoconference.

Eligibility

Solution proposals can only be submitted by a small business that meets all of the following criteria:

  • for profit
  • incorporated in Canada (federally or provincially)
  • 499 or fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) employeesFootnote *
  • research and development activities that take place in Canada
  • 50% or more of its annual wages, salaries and fees are currently paid to employees and contractors who spend the majority of their time working in CanadaFootnote *
  • 50% or more of its FTE employees have Canada as their ordinary place of workFootnote *
  • 50% or more of its senior executives (Vice President and above) have Canada as their principal residenceFootnote *

Application guide

Application guide

Evaluation Criteria

Part 1: Mandatory and Minimum Pass Mark Criteria

Proposals must meet all mandatory criteria (Questions 1a and 2) and achieve the minimum pass mark for Question 3 in order to be deemed responsive and proceed to Part 2.

Mandatory and Minimum Pass Mark Criteria (Applicant/Bidder's proposal must address)
Question Evaluation Schema

1 a. Scope

Describe your proposed solution and how it responds to the challenge. Include in your description the scientific and technological basis upon which your solution is proposed and clearly identify how your solution meets all of the EssentialOutcomes (if identified) in the Desired Outcomes and Considerations section in the Challenge Notice.

Mandatory - Pass/Fail

Pass
The Applicant/Bidder's proposed solution is clearly articulated, within the scope for the challenge and addresses all Essential Outcomes (if identified) in the Challenge Notice.

Fail
There is little or no evidence that the proposed solution is likely to meet the challenge.
OR
The proposed solution is articulated as out of scope for the challenge.
OR
The proposed solution does not address all Essential Outcomes listed in the challenge.
OR
The proposed solution is poorly described and does not permit concrete analysis.

2.  Current Technology Readiness Level (TRL)

  1. Indicate the current TRL of your proposed solution. (Drop Down Menu of the Application/Bid Submission Form)
  2. Describe the research and development activities that have taken place to bring the proposed solution to the stated TRL.

Mandatory - Pass/Fail

Pass: The Applicant/Bidder has demonstrated that the proposed solution is currently between TRLs 1 and 4 (inclusive), and provided justification by explaining the research and development (R&D) that has taken place to bring the solution to the stated TRL.

Fail: The Applicant/Bidder has not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the current TRL is between 1 to 4 (inclusive) including:

  1. There is insufficient/no evidence provided for TRL judgment.
  2. The solution involves the development of basic or fundamental research.
  3. The solution is at TRL 5 or higher.
  4. Insufficient/unclear/no justification explaining the R&D that took place to bring the solution to the stated TRL.
  5. The explanation simply paraphrases the description of a given TRL level.

3. Innovation

Describe the novelty of your solution and how it advances the state-of-the-art over existing technologies, including competing solutions.

Point Rated with Minimum Pass Mark

The minimum pass mark for this criteria is 4 points.

0 points/Fail: The Applicant/Bidder has not demonstrated that the proposed solution advances the state-of-the-art over existing technologies, including available competing solutions; OR

The stated advancements are described in general terms but are not substantiated with specific, measurable evidence.

4 points:

  • The Applicant/Bidder has demonstrated that the proposed solution offers one or two minor improvements to existing technologies, including available competing solutions, that have potential to create competitive advantages in existing market niches.

6 points:

  • The Applicant/Bidder has demonstrated that the proposed solution offers three or more minor improvements to existing technologies, including available competing solutions, that together are likely to create competitive advantages in existing market niches; OR
  • The Applicant/Bidder has demonstrated that the proposed solution offers one significant improvement to existing technologies that is likely to create competitive advantages in existing market niches

8 points:

  • The Applicant/Bidder has demonstrated that the proposed solution offers two or more significant improvements to existing technologies, including available competing solutions that are likely to create competitive advantages in existing market niches and could define new market spaces; OR
  • The Applicant/Bidder has demonstrated that the proposed solution can be considered a new benchmark of state of the art that is clearly ahead of competitors and that is likely to define new market spaces

Part 2: Point-Rated Criteria

Proposals that do not achieve the overall minimum score of at least 55 points out of a possible 110 points (50%) will be declared non-responsive and given no further consideration.

The overall minimum score is determined by adding the Applicant/Bidder's scores from the following questions together (1b, 3, 4-13).

Point-Rated Criteria (Applicant/Bidder's proposal to address)
Question Evaluation Schema

1b. Scope

Describe how your proposed solution addresses the Additional Outcomes (if identified) in the Desired Outcomes and Considerations section in the Challenge Notice.  

If no Additional Outcomes are identified in the Challenge Notice, Bidders/Applicants will receive 10 points

  • Insufficient or no information provided to demonstrate that the solution will address any of the Additional Outcomes. 0 points
  • Information provided clearly demonstrates that the solution will address some (<50%) of the Additional Outcomes. 5 points
  • Information provided clearly demonstrates that the solution will address most (50% or more) of the Additional Outcomes. 8 points
  • Information provided clearly demonstrates that the solution will address all (100%) of the Additional Outcomes. 10 points

4. Phase 1 Science and Technology Risks

Identify potential scientific and/or technological risks to the successful development of the proof of concept and how they will be mitigated in Phase 1?

  • Insufficient or no information provided to demonstrate that the Applicant/Bidder has considered potential risks and mitigation strategies and/or information provided contains significant gaps. 0 points
  • Information provided demonstrates that the Applicant/Bidder has considered some potential risks and associated mitigation strategies but there are minor gaps in risks and/or associated mitigation strategies. 5 points
  • Information provided clearly demonstrates that the Applicant/Bidder has sufficiently considered the risks and defined associated mitigation strategies. 10 points

5. Benefits to Canada

Describe the benefits that could result from the successful development of your solution. Applicants/Bidders should consider the potential benefits using the following three categories:

  1. Innovation Benefits: Expected contribution towards the enhancement or development of new industrial or technological innovations. Assessment factors could include: potential spillover benefits, creation of intellectual property, impact on productivity of the new technology, etc.
  2. Economic Benefits: Forecasted impact on the growth of Canadian firms, clusters and supply chains, as well as its expected benefits for Canada's workforce. Assessment factors could include: number of jobs created, number of high-paying jobs, project-related revenue growth, etc.
  3. Public Benefits: Expected contribution to the broader public, including inclusive business and hiring practices (e.g., gender balance), investment in skills and training and environmental best practices. Assessment would consider the degree to which the Applicant/Bidder demonstrates that the solution is expected to generate social, environmental, health, security or other benefits to Canada. Assessment factors could include: solution-related environmental benefits, investment in local communities and solution-related impact on Indigenous communities.
  1. Innovation Benefits
    • Benefit not identified or insufficient claim of benefit. 0 points
    • Benefit has marginal increment or limited justification. 1.5 points
    • Benefit is significant and well justified. 3 points
  2. Economic Benefits
    • Benefit not identified or insufficient claim of benefit. 0 points
    • Benefit has marginal increment or limited justification. 1.5 points
    • Benefit is significant and well justified. 3 points
  3. Public Benefits.
    • Benefit not identified or insufficient claim of benefit. 0 points
    • Benefit has marginal increment or limited justification. 1.5 points
    • Benefit is significant and well justified. 3 points

6. Phase 1 Project Plan

Demonstrate a feasible Phase 1 project plan by completing the table.

Include:

  • Project milestones;
  • project activities under each milestone;
  • time required to complete each milestone (e.g., days, weeks and/or months);
    • (Indicate if any milestones and activities will be completed concurrently)
  • total time required to complete the project; and
  • key success criteria.

Note: Phase 1 cannot exceed 6 months and TRL 4.

  1. Insufficient or no information provided to demonstrate a feasible project plan for Phase 1 and/or the project plan exceeds the maximum duration indicated in the Challenge Notice. 0 points
  2. Project plan for Phase 1 is conceivably feasible but not clearly demonstrated and/or includes gaps. 5 points
  3. Information provided clearly demonstrates a feasible project plan for Phase 1. 10 points

7. Phase 1 Project Risks

Identify potential project risks (eg. Human resources, financial, project management, etc) to the successful development of the proof of concept and how they will be mitigated?

  1. Insufficient or no information provided to demonstrate that the Applicant/Bidder has considered potential risks and mitigation strategies and/or information provided contains significant gaps. 0 points
  2. Information provided demonstrates that the Applicant/Bidder has considered some potential risks and associated mitigation strategies but there are minor gaps in risks and/or associated mitigation strategies. 5 points
  3. Information provided clearly demonstrates that the Applicant/Bidder has sufficiently considered the risks and defined associated mitigation strategies. 10 points

8. Phase 1 Implementation Team

Demonstrate how your project implementation team has the required management and technological skill sets and experience to deliver the project plan for Phase 1 by completing the table. A member of the implementation team can have more than one role.

Include the labour rates and level of effort for each member. A day is defined as 7.5 hours of work, exclusive of meal breaks. The labour rates and level of effort will be reviewed as part of the evaluation for Question 10.

  1. Insufficient or no information provided to demonstrate that the project team has the required management and technological skill sets and experience to deliver the Phase 1 project plan. 0 points
  2. Information is provided but there are minor gaps in required management and/or technological skill sets and/or experience to deliver the Phase 1 project plan. 5 points
  3. Information provided clearly demonstrates that the project team has the required management and technological skill sets and experience to deliver the Phase 1 project plan. 10 points

9. Inclusivity

If your business were to receive funding from Innovative Solutions Canada, describe what actions (e.g., recruitment strategy, internships, co-op placements, etc.) might be taken in Phase 1 to support the participation of under-represented groups (e.g., women, youth, persons with disabilities, Indigenous people, visible minorities) in the research and development of the proposed solution.

  • No description and/or concrete examples of actions provided that would be taken to encourage greater participation of under-represented groups. 0 points
  • A description and concrete examples of actions to encourage greater participation of under-represented groups provided. 3 points

10. Phase 1 Financial Proposal

Demonstrate a realistic financial proposal for the Phase 1 project plan by completing the table.

  • Insufficient information provided and/or information provided significantly lack credibility.  Does not demonstrate a realistic financial proposal for the Phase 1 project plan. 0 points
  • Information is provided but some costs appear to be either over or under estimated for the Phase 1 project plan. 5 points
  • Information provided contains credible elements to clearly demonstrate a realistic financial proposal for the Phase 1 project plan. 10 points

11. Phase 1 Financial Controls, Tracking and Oversight

Describe the financial controls, tracking and oversight that will be used to manage the public funds throughout Phase 1.

  1. Insufficient or no information provided to demonstrate the Applicant/Bidder's ability to manage public funds in Phase 1. 0 points
  2. Information provided is vague and/or contains gaps. The Applicant/Bidder has some controls, tracking and/or oversight in place to manage the public funds in Phase 1. 5 points
  3. Information provided clearly demonstrates that the Applicant/Bidder has strong financial controls, tracking and oversight to manage public funds in Phase 1. 10 points

12. Phase 2 Strategy

Describe a realistic strategy for the prototype development if selected to participate in Phase 2.

Responses should include:

  • anticipated barriers
  • key tasks
  • estimated cost
  • Insufficient or no information provided to demonstrate that the Applicant/Bidder has contemplated a realistic strategy for the Phase 2 prototype development. 0 points
  • Information provided demonstrates a conceivably realistic strategy for Phase 2 prototype development, however there are gaps and/or the strategy is vague. 5 points
  • Information provided demonstrates that the Applicant/Bidder has a clear and realistic strategy. 10 points

13. Commercialization Approach

Describe your overall commercialization approach for the proposed solution.

Responses should include:

  • Target markets (excluding Government of Canada)
  • Non-ISC funding sources
  • Transition to a commercially-ready product or service
  • Any other indicators of commercial potential and commercial feasibility
  1. Insufficient or no information provided to demonstrate that the proposed solution has commercial potential. 0 points
  2. Some information provided to demonstrate that the proposed solution has commercial potential, however there are gaps in the commercialization approach. 5 points
  3. A realistic commercialization approach is provided that demonstrates that the proposed solution has commercial potential. 10 points

Questions and answers

Please refer to the tender notice for this challenge on Buy and Sell.

All incoming questions regarding a specific challenge will be posted here with the corresponding response.

If you have a question about a challenge, please send it to ISED-ISDE@canada.ca.

You can also consult the Frequently asked questions about the Innovative Solutions Canada Program.

A glossary is also available.

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