DOE Project History at UM - Mobile Robots Research

The DOE project at the University of Michigan was funded by the DOE (Department of Energy) since 1986. In 1987 the University of Michigan started its Mobile Robotics research activities with the arrival of CARMEL, a Cybermotion K2A robot purchased under the DOE grant. Since the beginning of this project, David Wehe has been the project director, and Yoram Koren and Ramesh Jain were co-PIs. Johann Borenstein has been the main "technical person" for the obstacle avoidance aspects of the project. The DOE project is supporting research in artificial intelligence, radiation imaging, and mobile robotics. This brief project history deals only with the mobile robotics aspects.

Under the DOE project Johann Borenstein and Yoram Koren developed the VFF and VFH obstacle avoidance methods, tele-autonomous control, Histogramic In-Motion Mapping (HIMM), and Error Eliminating Rapid Ultrasonic Firing (EERUF). The virtual force field (VFF) method was developed and implemented in 1988. It worked well for speeds of up to 0.5 m/sec. At higher speeds oscillations were observed. In trying to overcome these problems, the Vector Field Histogram (VFH) method was developed and implemented in 1989. This method works very well at speeds of up to 0.8 m/sec, the maximum speed of CARMEL. The VFH obstacle avoidance system proved successful when it helped CARMEL win the 1992 "Mobile Robotics Olympics" in San Jose, CA. Further improvements to VFH were implemented in 1990/91 with the development of EERUF. This method complements the VFH approach by supplying reliable range reading at high sampling times -- as required by the fast motion made possible by the VFH method. The VFH/EERUF combination was implemented and tested on a TRC LabMate in 1991. Fast obstacle avoidance (1 m/sec) in very cluttered environments (0.8 mm diameter vertical poles spaced at roughly 1.4 m from each other in an "obstacle grid") was demonstrated. Later, the VFH and EERUF method were implemented in the NavChair project, and EERUF was implemented in the the early NavBelt prototype. In 1993 our interest in mobile robotics research shifted toward mobile robot kinematics and dead-reckoning. First under an NSF grant, and then with additional DOE funding we developed a unique Multi-Degree-of-Freedom (MDOF) mobile robot. Later, intensive research in dead-reckoning led to the development of significant dead-reckoning improvements: Internal Position Error Correction (IPEC) and UMBmark.