A significant challenge in human–robot collaboration (HRC) is coordinating robot and human motions. Discoordination can lead to production delays and human discomfort. Prior works seek coordination by planning robot paths that consider humans or their anticipated occupancy as static obstacles, making them nearsighted and prone to entrapment by human motion. This work presents the spatio-temporal avoidance of predictions-prediction and planning framework (STAP-PPF) to improve robot–human coordination in HRC. STAP-PPF predicts multi-step human motion sequences based on the locations of objects the human manipulates. STAP-PPF then proactively determines time-optimal robot paths considering predicted human motion and robot speed restrictions anticipated according to the ISO15066 speed and separation monitoring (SSM) mode. When executing robot paths, STAP-PPF continuously updates human motion predictions. In real-time, STAP-PPF warps the robot’s path to account for continuously updated human motion predictions and updated SSM effects to mitigate delays and human discomfort. Results show the STAP-PPF generates robot trajectories of shorter duration. STAP-PPF robot trajectories also adapted better to real-time human motion deviation. STAP-PPF robot trajectories also maintain greater robot/human separation throughout tasks requiring close human–robot interaction. Tests with an assembly sequence demonstrate STAP-PPF’s ability to predict multi-step human tasks and plan robot motions for the sequence. STAP-PPF also most accurately estimates robot trajectory durations, within 30% of actual, which can be used to adapt the robot sequencing to minimize disruption.
A significant challenge in human–robot collaboration (HRC) in manufacturing is coordinating robot and human motions for synergistic operation. In an HRC workcell, humans and robots work together in shared workspaces, requiring close proximity, to complete tasks. The unique skills of the robot and of the human complement each other to accomplish tasks collaboratively . The Industry 4.0 (I4.0) revolution aims for smart factories of the future to permit mass customization of products, requiring advancements in HRC workcells, such as enhanced sensing and data processing, to allow flexibility in manufacturing [2,3]. Prior HRC workcells in industry still require mostly rigid design of tasks to avoid unintended human contact. Industry 5.0 (I5.0) requires further advancement to HRC by improving human–robot interactions, requiring advancements in humans’ perception of safety and human-machine work balance . HRC workcells in the smart factory envisioned by Society 5.0 (S5.0) must also improve the quality of life for workers via improved human–robot relationships . The work, herein, contributes to the features of the HRC workcell in the smart factory of the future described by I4.0, I5.0, and S5.0 by developing the spatio-temporal avoidance of predictions-prediction and planning framework (STAP-PPF). STAP-PPF combines human motion prediction with proactive robot path planning. The goal of STAP-PPF is to generate robot paths that better coordinate with humans to improve robot efficiency (permitting flexibility for I4.0) and improve human safety and comfort (improving human-machine relationships for I5.0 and S5.0) in close human–robot collaboration.
The evolution of robot’s role in manufacturing can be described in three stages . The first stage, Robotics 1.0, occurred between the 1960s and 1980s. It is characterized by industrial robots being programmed to perform repetitive tasks due to minimal sensing capability and no tolerance for sequence deviations. The second stage of robot evolution, Robotics 2.0, occurred between the 1990s and 2000s. It is characterized by increased sensing capability, data processing capability, and capability for communication with other factory processes to enable more intelligent robots. During robotics 2.0, the first collaborative robot was introduced to permit robots and humans to share workspaces. The third stage of robotic evolution, Robotics 3.0, began in the 2010s and is ongoing. It is enabled by data sharing between machines, increased computing power, new artificial intelligence (AI) for processing data such as images and other signals from sensor suites. Robotics 4.0 is anticipated to start in this decade due to further increased computing power, data communication capabilities, and more powerful AI models.
Robotics 3.0 also coincides with I4.0. I4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution which seeks on-demand manufacturing and greater product customization (small-batch, high-mix products), production flexibility, and greater use of collaborative robots to achieve those goals . I4.0 is also marked by technological developments such as Internet of Things to improve data sharing and processing among machines, including cloud computing . The next industrial revolution is I5.0. It is marked by improvements to human-machine interactions and load balancing between humans and machines . I5.0 also aims to make manufacturing more sustainable and supply chains more resilient. S5.0 is a societal revolution related to I5.0 which seeks to improve the quality of life through fusion of the cyberspace and physical space . Both I5.0 and S5.0 are enabled by AI advancements and seek to improve the relationship between technology and humans.
STAP-PPF is motivated by the challenges of coordinating human and robot motions in HRC workcells to permit goals of I4.0, I5.0, and S5.0. If robot and human motions are not optimally coordinated, then the robot may have to reduce speed or stop to avoid collisions according to HRC safety standards . Such reactive behavior leads to production delays . Another consequence of uncoordinated robot and human motions is human discomfort. Uncoordinated motions can lead to robot paths that take the robot very close to the human and make the human feel less safe . Therefore, a solution that coordinates robot and human motions can improve productivity and humans’ sense of safety. Achieving coordination in an HRC workcell presents a challenge because, traditionally, it requires nearly perfect workcell layout and robot and human sequencing to maintain efficiency and human safety . Perfect workcell design can be very time consuming as robot motions must be carefully designed to avoid robot/human interference while still permitting robot motions. This increases changeover time when new processes are introduced to a workcell and diminishes the degree of transformable production . The lack of flexibility reduces manufactures’ capabilities for transformable production with mass customization of parts . To ease the burden of precise HRC workcell design while seeking the goals of flexibility and better robot–human interaction of Industry 4.0/5.0, this work investigates proactive robot path planning. To plan proactively, human motion must be predicted. Then a robot path planner must account for the predicted human motions when determining trajectories for the robot. Human motions include time dependency, requiring the robot path planner to perform additional computations to account for timing. Additionally, robot motion should be updated in real-time to accommodate human motion that deviates from the predictions. This is a challenge since computation must be minimized to allow fast updates.
The STAP-PPF framework, herein, provides a solution to the mentioned challenges of coordinating robot and human motion in HRC. STAP-PPF extends the human trajectory prediction algorithm in Ref. . STAP-PPF uses that prediction algorithm to generate multi-step and multi-arm predictions. STAP-PPF also extends the STAP robot path planning method from Ref. . STAP-PPF encodes input human motion predictions in a spatio-temporal avoidance model that indicates time intervals over which robot passage is blocked by predicted human occupancy of 3D points. STAP-PPF determines optimal robot paths and estimates robot delay using a time-based cost function. Sources of robot delay are the time intervals of occupancy and speed reduction enforced by a safety controller. The safety controller employs the speed and separation monitoring (SSM) robot control mode defined in ISO15066 to ensure human safety in HRC [6,13]. To improve performance, STAP-PPF approximates the spatio-temporal avoidance model with a neural network (NN), pre-samples robot configurations for path planning, and utilizes batch sampling to take advantage of computer hardware acceleration. STAP-PPF also adapts the robot’s path in real-time based on continuously updated human predictions and estimated SSM effect. Hence, STAP-PPF accommodates deviations in real-time human motion.
The novelties of STAP-PPF are a framework that incorporates multi-step human motion prediction, the planning method that selects optimal robot paths based on human motion predictions and anticipated SSM effect, and method to adapt the robot’s path in real-time based on updated predictions. A goal of STAP-PPF is to generate robot paths that allow the robot to maintain efficiency amidst human proximity, contributing to the I4.0 goal of workcell flexibility. Additionally, STAP-PPF seeks to generate robot paths that improve human safety and comfort in an HRC workcell, contributing to the I5.0 goal of improving human-machine interaction and the S5.0 goal of improved human-technology relationships. Figure 1 shows how STAP-PPF is incorporated into the control loop for an HRC workcell. In offline planning, STAP-PPF can pre-plan robot motions considering the robot and human sequences. Online planning can consider updated human predictions to re-plan the robot’s nominal motion for an upcoming robot motion segment. The real-time block includes computation that can occur faster than 30 Hz. It includes the component of STAP-PPF that warps the robot’s nominal path to account for continuously updated human predictions. It also includes the SSM enabled safety controller that ensures human safety. The rest of this work is organized as follows. Section 2: literature review, Sec. 3: methods, Sec. 4: experiments, Sec. 5: results and discussion, and Sec. 6: conclusions.
2 Literature Review
This section will first review methods for human motion prediction, which could serve as input to a proactive robot path planning method. The review explores existing methods that predict human arm motion in an HRC workcell and methods for predicting general human motion not limited to manufacturing settings. Additionally, the review of human motion prediction is organized into review of prediction methods that model the human with a dynamic model first. Next, prediction methods that use sets of probabilistic models to generate prediction of human motion are reviewed. The final type of prediction methods reviewed estimate probability of humans occupying workcell volumes at any point in a task.
Next, this section reviews methods for planning robot paths considering human proximity to the robot in an HRC setting, referred to as human-aware robot path planners. The review of path planning methods considers two types of path planners for an HRC workcell. The first type of planners are those that proactively consider predicted human motion to generate robot paths. The second type of planners are those that react to real-time human poses. This type either pre-plans a set of robot paths to switch between in real-time as the human moves or plans robot motion considering the SSM effect the current human pose would have on robot speed throughout a path.
2.1 Human Motion Prediction.
Some prior works model human motion using dynamic models. Liu and Wang predict a human’s trajectory to reach a goal by estimating parameters of a linear human dynamic model . Wang et al. fit an autoregressive integrated moving average model to recorded human arm motions to predict a future sequence of human joint angles . Liu and Liu predict human motion using a recurrent neural network (RNN), with a modified Kalman filter to adapt RNN weights as motion is observed . Martinez et al. utilized a sequence-to-sequence RNN with gated recurrent units to predict a sequence of human motion based on recently observed motion . Li et al. utilized an encoder/decoder network to predict human pose sequences considering long- and short-term history of recent motion as input . Mao et al. modeled human motion with the discrete Cosine transform (DCT) and predicted future DCT coefficients with a graph convolutional neural network, considering recent sequences of DCT coefficients as input . These methods iteratively predict motion at a next time-step based on the prediction for the current time-step. Therefore, error builds exponentially as the prediction iterates farther into the future. This limited many prior works to an error reporting horizon of up to 1 s, due to the exponential growth of error [17–19].
Other prior works developed sets of human motion models. Mainprice and Berenson used Gaussian mixture models (GMMs) to predict human occupancy in the HRC workspace . Kanazawa et al. used GMMs to estimate the pose of humans in a workcell . Then they used Gaussian mixture regression (GMR) to predict human trajectories. Li et al. recorded human trajectories and applied multi-step Gaussian process regression to the previous observations to predict human reaching motions . Callens et al. applied probabilistic principal component analysis to observe human motion to develop a database of human motion models and detect motion onset and speed . Each of these methods generates a set of models based on previously observed human motions. When predicting human motion, the model best suited to the human’s current task, based on a sequence of recent motion, must be determined from among the models in the set of models. A disadvantage of these predictors is that many time-steps of observed motion may be required before the most appropriate model can be determined from the set of models.
Another strategy in prior works is to estimate the probability of occupying points in the robot’s workcell. Pellegrinelli et al. modeled the probability of human occupancy based on time spent in workcell voxels throughout tasks and inferred likely human occupancy volumes (HOVs) . Hayne et al. also determined a workspace voxel occupancy probability based on the number of time-steps the voxel is occupied . These models provide a system with occupancy data so a robot can avoid the general area where a human will work, but do not encode the timing of occupancy. This can lead them to be too conservative in separating robot and human activity and less effective in tight human–robot collaboration.
Flowers and Wiens developed a generative neural network (GNN) to predict a time-sequence of human poses based on the human’s current pose and reaching the target . This GNN is the human motion predictor used in STAP-PPF. The inputs to the GNN are the wrist target for completing a reaching motion combined with the human’s current pose. The GNN predicts a multi-step sequence of poses the human will take in going from the current pose to a final pose at which the reaching wrist is at the target.
2.2 Human-Aware Robot Path Planners.
Recent works in robot motion planning have developed path planner variations to consider human proximity to the robot and find robot paths that balance human safety and comfort with efficiency. Some of these works consider human motion predictions in planning. Phillips et al. considered anticipated intervals of robot passage among humans, with application to a robotic vehicle considering humans as point obstacles . Mainprice and Berenson used the human prediction GMMs and the STOMP path optimizer to adapt the robot’s goal and corresponding trajectory to avoid anticipated human occupancy [20,27]. Zanchettin et al. used linear programming to determine robot paths that minimize robot speed reduction due to human proximity . Hayne et al. determined robot and human lane penetration costs based on probability of workspace voxel occupancy and signed distance field (SDF) and used a trajectory optimizer to minimize both robot and human costs . Pellegrinelli et al. applied RRT with HOVs in Ref. . Liu and Tomizuka estimated a safety index for a predicted human trajectory and determined optimal, safe robot control sets . Wang et al. generated robot trajectories that minimized time to reach a goal such that a minimum distance between the robot and human arm predictions is maintained . Zhao and Pan developed a cost map that also considered prior human occupancy, SDF, and robot’s penetration into anticipated human occupied regions . Kanazawa et al. generated robot trajectories that optimized reaching the robot goal, avoiding collision with the predicted human trajectories generated by GMR, and maintaining robot kinematic limits .
Another strategy of recent works is to react to a human’s current pose. Sisbot and Alami determined robot/human object transfer points and robot paths to optimize a balance between human safety and comfort and minimize the duration of robot–human handovers . Holmes et al. developed the autonomous reachability-based manipulator trajectory design which used trajectory optimization to switch between pre-generated trajectories at run-time according to real-time obstacle positions . Faroni et al. developed the human-aware motion planner (HAMP) to generate robot paths that minimize the SSM effect of human proximity on robot speed reduction . The SSM robot speed control mode of ISO15066 dictates reduction in robot speed limit proportional to the distance between robot and human . Tonola et al. developed a framework to use parallel processing to generate multiple paths via AnytimeRRT and switch paths during execution to accommodate human activity in HRC . Since these works react to the human’s current pose without anticipating future human poses, they can be nearsighted. They may react to a current pose only to have their paths blocked again once the human moves, possibly allowing the human to entrap the robot. STAP-PPF considers human motion predictions, so it does not suffer from this nearsighted behavior.
2.3 Human–Robot Collaboration Framework.
Nicora et al. developed a framework that allows planning of robot activity for an HRC workcell at a motion segment level . They defined a robot motion segment as either restrictive or non-restrictive. A restrictive segment only allows robot timing deviations, but not deviation in robot pose from the planned path. This restriction is desired when the robot is performing a short motion to place an object in its gripper or release an object into a fixture. A non-restrictive segment allows modifications in both robot pose and timing relative to the nominal path. This is desired for relatively long motions in which the robot is traversing workcell areas, either carrying a part or going to get a part. Non-restrictive segments are defined with a behavior dictating how the motion can be pre-planned and then modified online. STAP-PPF provides a new, proactive behavior type for non-restrictive segments in the framework started by Nicora et al. STAP-PPF can be used to pre-plan segments offline, re-plan segments online, or warp segments in real-time.
2.4 Novelties of STAP-PPF.
One novelty of STAP-PPF is the extension of the GNN-based human motion prediction method in Ref.  into a framework permitting proactive robot path planning. The STAP-PPF human prediction GNN predicts all steps of motion in one forward pass of the network so it does not suffer from exponential increase in error as time horizon increases and has no limit on the time horizon for prediction as prior works do. The STAP-PPF human prediction GNN can also update predictions as fast as 500 Hz, permitting real-time updates to human predictions, which is not possible for prior works using sets of models. STAP-PPF also contains a novel, time-optimal, sampling-based robot path planner. It estimates robot arrival time based on estimated time intervals over which the predicted human blocks robot passage and estimated SSM effect of predicted human proximity on robot speed. Some prior works considered SSM effect of current human poses, but not for human predictions as in STAP-PPF. Prior path planners that considered human predictions did not consider HRC safety standards such as the ISO15066 SSM robot control mode. The STAP-PPF planner is also novel in its adaptation of RRT* which considers estimated robot connection durations and propagates them along robot paths. This is in contrast to prior human prediction-based path planners that used a robot path optimizer instead of sampling-based planner. STAP-PPF also pre-samples robot configurations along the human prediction and uses batch-sampling to improve planner convergence. Finally, STAP-PPF develops a method for real-time adaptation of the robot’s path according to real-time updates to the human motion prediction. Many prior methods do not include real-time updates to human predictions or the robot’s path. STAP-PPF also considers a more complex human prediction and higher degrees-of-freedom robot than some other works.
The methods of STAP-PPF are divided into three parts. First, STAP-PPF predicts nominal human motions with the multi-step human motion prediction part of the framework. Then the proactive robot path planner in STAP-PPF determines time-optimal, nominal robot paths given spatio-temporal constraints imposed by the human motion prediction. Next, STAP-PPF includes an algorithm to warp the nominal robot path according to continuously updated human motion predictions.
3.1 Human Motion Prediction.
STAP-PPF utilizes the human motion prediction method developed in Ref. . It predicts a sequence of human poses that a human will take in reaching toward a Cartesian target. The input to that prediction method is a feature vector consisting of the Cartesian reaching target and the quaternion representation of the human’s current pose. This subsection will first describe the human pose represented as pelvis location and human link quaternions. Then a summary of the prediction method from Ref.  is provided. Finally, the inclusion of the prediction method into STAP-PPF to provide multi-step sequences of human trajectories is presented in this subsection.
3.1.1 Human Pose Representation.
3.1.2 Human Motion Predictor.
The GNN in Ref.  is a sequence of convolution transpose layers with the scaled exponential linear unit (SELU) nonlinear activation function applied between layers . Each convolution transpose layer uses a convolution kernel in combination with stride and padding to expand an input with relatively few elements into an output with more elements. The GNN takes the zh vector as input and outputs a matrix having 10 rows and 31 columns. Each row in the output matrix is a phase step in the human motion prediction. Each column corresponds to an element of the human pose. Phase steps are evenly spaced on a scale of percent completion of the motion, but not time. The GNN simultaneously estimates the human poses when the human wrist is at the Ptgt, at the end of the prediction, and estimates the sequence of poses the human will take when traversing between the start pose and the estimated final pose. The start pose (hs) would be either the human’s current pose, or the final pose from a preceding prediction, as described in the next subsection. The GNN outputs the most likely human pose sequence based on the 2800 recordings of human reaching motions used to train the GNN.
The human motion prediction GNN outputs a prediction of human motion given a single target the human is anticipated to reach for. When the human has multiple targets to choose from, i.e., there are multiple copies of the same part on the table, STAP-PPF can generate a human prediction and corresponding robot path for each target in offline planning. Online, when the human begins reaching for one of the parts, STAP-PPF can select one of the pre-planned robot paths according to which part the human reaches for, determined by an algorithm that estimates human sequence like . Then STAP-PPF can adapt the robot path in real-time according to updated human predictions for the observed target.
3.1.3 Prediction for Sequences of Human–Robot Actions.
The human motion predictor can be used in the STAP-PPF framework to predict motions for a sequence of human motions. Details of the human motions must be provided to the framework to know how to connect each human motion, shown in Table 1. The reach arm must be specified because the GNN uses separate networks for left and right arm motion predictions to improve accuracy. The “prior robot step” indicates a robot task number that must be completed before the human can proceed. A sequence of human motions can be planned sequentially until reaching a human motion that depends on the completion of a robot task. An example use case for this parameter is when the robot must place a part before the human can install something on the part. When generating a sequence of predicted human motions, the final step of one prediction becomes the input pose for the next prediction. The “start delay” parameter indicates a time delay between finishing one human motion and starting the next motion. In between predicting individual motions, the human pose would be held constant for an amount of time equal to the start delay before predicting the next motion. An example of when the start delay should be used is when a person tightens a screw with a screwdriver. In between bringing the screwdriver to the screw and removing the screwdriver from the screw, the person’s hand will remain in the nearly the same position while tightening the screw, so the start delay would indicate the time the person is tightening the screw.
|Reach target||Position of part/tool to grab|
|Reach arm||Arm performing the reach (left or right)|
|Start delay||Seconds between the completion of previous predicted motion and start of this prediction|
|Prior robot step||Robot task that must be completed before starting this human motion|
|Reach target||Position of part/tool to grab|
|Reach arm||Arm performing the reach (left or right)|
|Start delay||Seconds between the completion of previous predicted motion and start of this prediction|
|Prior robot step||Robot task that must be completed before starting this human motion|
In addition to specifying the human sequence, the robot’s sequence parameters may also require an index of a human step at which the robot must wait for human task completion before continuing. An example is when the human must move an assembly out of its fixture so the robot can place a part in the fixture.
3.2 Proactive Robot Path Planning.
This subsection first presents the spatio-temporal human avoidance model developed as part of STAP in Ref. . It determines intervals of time over which robot passage through Cartesian points is blocked by anticipated human poses. Then an NN approximation of the spatio-temporal human avoidance model is developed to improve computation time. Finally, the method for planning time-optimal robot paths considering the spatio-temporal human avoidance model is presented in this subsection.
3.2.1 Ground Truth Spatio-Temporal Avoidance Model.
The original spatio-temporal avoidance model from our prior work will be summarized first . It will generate the training data for the NN avoidance interval estimator. To generate the avoidance model, the time sequence of human poses is first fit to a discretized 3D grid. Cylinders are generated for each link of the human for the entire input human pose sequence based on the pose h at each time-step and the link lengths and radii. Those link cylinders are then fit into the discretized 3D grid. Figure 3 shows the steps to determine the human’s 3D occupancy, showing the sensed pose at left, cylinders in the middle, and point cloud at the right.
Figure 3(d) illustrates the concept of avoidance intervals. The vertical axis is a sequence of robot configurations starting at qI and ending at qG. The horizontal axis indicates the time each waypoint in the sequence is reached, relative to the sequence start time. The red rectangles indicate avoidance intervals when configurations are blocked by human occupancy. The green circles and solid black line indicate the (waypoint, timing) sequence connecting start to goal. The orange triangles and dotted lines indicate connections from q1 to q3 occurring too soon and not permitting connection to the goal due to avoidance intervals. The earliest timing for the connections from q1 to q3 is indicated by the green circles. In Fig. 3(d), red rectangles at the right side indicate avoidance intervals that persist at the end of the human prediction, which lead to the time of last passage for the q1 to q3 connections (top of the Fig. 3(d)).
3.2.2 Approximation of the Spatio-Temporal Avoidance Model.
Through trial and error, an NN consisting of a sequence of five fully connected layers having sizes 43 × 512, 512 × 512, 512 × 256, 256 × 256, and 256 × 1 going from input to output was found to work best for this application. Increasing the number of network layers or the size of network layers beyond this point reduced prediction error with diminishing returns and added computation time. The avoidance interval NN architecture is depicted in Fig. 4(a), with at the left and the Pint in the middle. Between each fully connected layer, the SELU non-linearity was applied to each layer output . The sigmoid non-linearity function was applied to the output of the final fully connected layer to scale the output for probability of intersection between the robot connection and a single human pose. Figure 4(a) shows the layers as rectangles with number of neurons per layer and SELU activation between layers below and above the rectangles, respectively. The binary cross entropy (BCE) loss function determined the loss between the output probability and the true probability of intersection (1 if avoid, 0 if clear). The BCE was used in training network parameters, as it is commonly used for classification networks like herein this section. The adam optimizer was used to backpropagate the BCE loss via gradient descent to adjust network parameters . In NN training, a dropout rate of 0.5 was used between each SELU operation and the subsequent fully connected layer to improve the robustness of the network.
A robot connection is flagged to be avoided at time t if the Pint output by the network is greater than a user-set probability threshold, denoted Pavoid herein, depicted by the left 2 blocks in Fig. 4(a). Otherwise, the connection is clear at time t. To estimate the avoid/clear status for a robot connection and all time-steps of the predicted human motion, a batch of inputs is constructed from for all time-steps of the predicted human sequence. Then the output of the network is a vector having a probability of intersection (avoid) for each time-step, denoted Pint(zai). Next, the probabilities are thresholded to get the avoid/clear flag for each time-step, denoted at time t. Finally, avoidance intervals are determined based on the avoid/clear flags. Interval start times () occur where is flagged as clear (0) and is flagged as avoid (1), as depicted at the top of Fig. 4(b). Interval end times () occur where is flagged as avoid (1) and is flagged as clear (0), as depicted at the bottom of Fig. 4(b). If at the final time-step of the human prediction is flagged as avoid, then tlp is the preceding and infinity otherwise.
To generate data to train and test the avoidance interval NN, STAP-PPF planned robot paths in a simulated workcell using the ground-truth spatio-temporal avoidance model considering human motion predicted by the GNN for a variety of targets. While planning a path, when STAP-PPF considers robot travel from qp to qc, the ground-truth spatio-temporal avoidance model generates and saves the avoidance intervals for the connection () considering the input human prediction. Each set of avoidance intervals generated by a qp, qc pair is used to generate a number of feature vectors () for input to the NN equal to the number of time-steps in the human motion prediction. Each of those would contain the qp, qc, and human pose for a time-step (ht). If the time-step of ht was within an avoidance interval in generated by the ground-truth spatio-temporal avoidance model, then would be labeled with . Otherwise, was labeled with . The results of training the avoidance interval NN are discussed in Sec. 5.1.
3.2.3 Planning Time-Optimal Robot Paths Considering Human Predictions
Safety-Aware Time-Based Cost Function.
If the passage interval [tp, tc] after consideration of avoidance intervals and SSM effects intersects an avoidance interval in , then tp is updated to be the end of that avoidance interval. Then tc is updated again according to Eqs. (10)–(14) to account for effect of SSM speed reduction and delay of tc. Then [tp, tc] must be checked for intersection with avoidance intervals again. After iteratively checking time interval intersections and SSM effects, if the resulting passage interval [tp, tc] contains tlp(qp, qc), then the connection from qp to qc is considered blocked indefinitely and cannot be a waypoint in the robot’s path. The cost of connection from qp to qc used to determine a time-optimal robot path is tc.
Spatio-Temporal Robot Path Planner.
The STAP method from our prior work included an adaptation of optimal rapidly exploring random trees (RRT*) [12,40]. The adaptations in STAP permitted consideration of the time-based cost function, which lends a more complex implementation than the traditional shortest-path planning problem. The STAP planner is intended for use with serial manipulators having many DOF. Therefore, the STAP-PPF planner must utilize random sampling, such as in RRT*, to ensure exploration of the robot’s workspace. The optimality of RRT* is achieved via a node rewiring step. In STAP-PPF, the cost of a connection from qp to qc in the planner’s node graph () is tc (robot time of arrival at qc) resulting from Eq. (10). When a new node (qnew) is added to via the lowest cost connection from qnear to qnew, the rewiring step evaluates costs of connections from qnew to each node (qnear) in the neighborhood of qnew. In considering a connection from qnew to qnear, qnew is considered qp and qnear is considered qc for Eqs. (9)–(15). If a connection from qnew to qnear has lower cost than the current connection to qnear, then rewiring assigns qnew as the parent to qnear.
In STAP, when a rewiring event occurs, then the time to reach qnear is reduced. STAP must also consider if timing for connections for which qnear is the parent can be improved. The timing of a number of connections stemming from qnear is checked, up to a user set number of child connections, to see if timing has been improved by rewiring. It is computationally intractable to check for connection timing improvements all the way to the end of the branches of . When a new node is added to , all qnear in the neighborhood of qnew are also checked to see if any other node in the neighborhood of qnew could be a lower cost parent to qnear. This ensures that as planning iterations progress, each node in has an opportunity to improve its timing if possible while keeping computation tractable.
The second adaptation for STAP-PPF is batch sampling. When using a graphics processing unit (GPU) to accelerate NN inference, as is the case with the avoidance intervals NN, time required to transfer data between the GPU and CPU can be minimized by moving larger volumes of data per transfer. Therefore, large batches of input connection data for the avoidance intervals network are used. In consideration of a single connection to a new node (qnew), a batch will include input vectors for all steps of the human sequence, which will be denoted as the set Zc. Then to consider all connections between qnew and neighboring nodes (qnear), a batch would be a larger set containing all Zc for each node pair, denoted . To construct an even larger batch, within a single planner iteration a user-set number of random qnew are generated. Now a batch could be the set of for each qnew, denoted Zmult.
After the avoidance interval network infers avoidance intervals and last pass times for all inputs in Zmult, best parent nodes for each qnew can be determined using the STAP-PPF cost function. Additionally, rewiring from each qnew can seek to improve timing to reach qnear in the neighborhood of each qnew. The time-optimal sequence of waypoints, or path, is that which minimizes the tc for the connection in which qc is the path goal. The planner in STAP-PPF is programmed as a MoveIt! motion planning plugin . It uses MoveIt!’s collision checking functions to ensure the entire robot arm is free of collision with objects in the workcell along every connection in . The iterative parabolic time parameterization (IPTP) in MoveIt! is applied to the sequence of waypoints output by STAP-PPF to assign times to reach each waypoint and robot joint velocities while passing through each waypoint. This ensures the path that is commanded of the robot will have a smooth position profile and that robot velocities and accelerations along the path stay within the robot’s limits. The two adaptations to STAP included in STAP-PPF made it 15 times faster than the original STAP method at generating robot paths. However, STAP-PPF still requires 5 s of computation time using six cores of an Intel i9 CPU and NVidia RTX-1070 GPU. Therefore, STAP-PPF needs a faster component, defined in the next subsection, for real-time updates to the trajectories generated by the robot path planner to account for deviations in human motion.
3.3 Real-Time Adaption of Robot Paths.
STAP-PPF can generate real-time updates to trajectories generated by the STAP-PPF planner. Herein, real-time is defined as the frequency new data that are generated by depth cameras in the workcell sensor suite, which is 30 Hz. Since the STAP-PPF planner takes multiple seconds to compute a path, it can’t generate an update in real-time. APF like approaches can adapt robot poses with relatively low computation time compared to sampling-based path planning. Therefore, STAP-PPF uses an APF like approach to warp the path generated by the planner according to updated human motion predictions. The human motion predictor in STAP-PPF can update as fast as 500 Hz, providing frequent input for warping the robot path. Figure 5 illustrates STAP-PPF real-time path warping. It shows the human’s current pose as green cylinders and the pose predicted 5 s into the future as the red cylinders.
In the process of warping the nominal robot path, the path is first interpolated into a number of intermediate robot configurations between each path waypoint. The intermediate configurations have the same spacing as in Eq. (14). In Fig. 5, the nominal path and waypoints are the solid green line and red circles, respectively. The intermediate configurations are iterated through from the current pose to the goal node. The effect of the SSM safety controller is estimated at each configuration based on the updated human prediction, estimated by a repulsive torque that yields
In Fig. 5, the intermediate configurations between waypoints after repulsion and attraction are shown as the smaller pink spheres. The new warped robot path is defined by the larger blue circles, which were selected from the pink circles using the mentioned criteria. Figure 5 delineates part of the warped path caused by smoothing after a repulsion. Equations (17)–(21) are performed during real-time robot path execution at a user-set rate (Fwarp). Continuous warp updates cause intermediate robot path points to be repelled by human predictions until the predictions no longer cause anticipated robot speed reduction or until the robot passes the point of repulsion. Higher values of Nwarp can generate robot paths with more waypoints and sharper turns.
To validate the STAP-PPF, experiments were conducted in a real, live HRC workcell, shown in Fig. 6. The cell has a 6DOF Comau e.Do serial robot manipulator sitting on a table . The table has a workspace that is shared between a human and the robot, indicated by the box labeled “Shared Workspace” at the bottom of Fig. 6. The workcell sensor suite contains two ZED2 depth cameras, which are circled in Fig. 6. The ZED skeleton tracking was used to localize human joints . The skeleton fusion method in Ref.  combined the data from both cameras to obtain the human pose.
Experiments were conducted using the STAP-PPF planner, with and without the path warping feature, and with three baseline human-aware planners. The STAP-PPF planner without path warping is denoted “STAP-C” for “constant” in results. The STAP-PPF using path warping is denoted “STAP-W” for “warping” in results. Two baseline methods are based on the HAMP . This planner utilizes a similar time-based cost function as STAP-PPF, but considers human occupancy as static. In one version of HAMP, denoted “HAMP-S” in results, the planner considers the current, static pose of humans, making it reactive to current human pose. During tests, HAMP-S replanned the robot’s trajectory when the robot was either within 0.2 m of the human or the SSM safety controller reduced robot speed to 35% of planned speed due to robot/human proximity. When HAMP-S replanned, it only considered the SSM effect on robot speed due to the current human pose. The second version of HAMP, denoted “HAMP-P” in results, proactively pre-plans robot motion by considering HOVs. The HOVs estimate probability of human occupancy of each workcell voxel based on observation of human occupied workcell voxels over task iterations. The human motion prediction generated by the method of Sec. 3.1 was used to pre-train the HOV probabilities ahead of tests. During tests, HOV probabilities were updated based on real-time human pose. The third baseline method, denoted “STOMP” in results, uses the STOMP trajectory optimizer as described in Ref.  to pre-plan robot motion by warping the straight line robot path to minimize robot penetration into the human motion prediction. It also used the human motion prediction method from Sec. 3.1. Due to high computation time of STOMP, it could only pre-plan robot motion before starting a task. During the task, the robot stayed on the STOMP trajectory while the SSM safety controller slowed or stopped the robot due to human proximity.
In one set of tests, called “test case 1” herein, the human tried to replicate the predicted human motion as closely as possible. This allows comparison of the proactive planning capabilities of STAP-PPF and baseline methods. In another set of tests, called “test case 2” herein, the human started motion either 2 s ahead or behind the predicted motion. These tests will show how STAP-PPF can adapt the robot’s path in real-time to accommodate human deviation. In these two sets of tests, the robot and human perform one of three scenarios.
In scenario A, the human gets a part off a shelf at the left of the workcell, indicated by the box labeled “A” in Fig. 6. Then, the human puts the part down in the shared workspace. Meanwhile, the robot moves a part from the right side of the cell to the left side. In scenario B, the human reaches to the right side of the cell to get a part from the table, indicated by the box labeled “B” in Fig. 6. Then the human places the part in the shared workspace, waits 5 s, and returns the part to the right side of the cell. The robot moves a part from the left side of the cell to the right side during scenario B. In scenario C, the human separates the right arm up and left arm down to about 45 deg from horizontal and then returns his/her arms to horizontal. This motion sequence repeats twice, taking 5 s per motion. Meanwhile, the robot moves a part from left to right across the cell. Scenarios A and B emulate more realistic activities in an HRC workcell. Scenario C is used to create a narrow time-varying window of passage around the human’s arms. Figure 7 shows the start, end, and two intermediate time-steps of scenarios A, B, and C.
In a third set of tests, called “test case 3” herein, the human and robot collaborate to assemble two piston and connecting rod sets. Figure 8 shows the layout of the test cell for test case 3. It shows the location of the assembly pieces before assembly in the labeled green boxes. It also shows the location of the fixture where the pieces are assembled. The robot performs 26 motion segments and the human performs 21 motions. The person picks up a connecting rod, shown in Fig. 9(a), and brings it back near the assembly area while the robot brings a piston to the assembly fixture, shown in Figs. 9(b) and 9(c). When the piston is placed, the person puts the connecting rod in the assembly fixture with the right hand, picks up a pin with the left hand, and places the pin through the piston and connecting rod. Then the person takes the piston/rod assembly out of the fixture and places it on the table. The sequence repeats again for the second assembly. After the robot places the second piston in the fixture, the robot picks the crankshaft, as shown in Fig. 9(d), and places it in the shared workspace to complete the sequence.
Test case 3 demonstrates prediction for a multi-step sequence of human motions and further shows the benefit of coordinating robot and anticipated human motion. Test case 3 is performed with STAP-PPF with path warping (STAP-W), HAMP-S, and HAMP-P. When using HAMP-S and HAMP-P, the robot re-planned its path as necessary. Experiments with test case 2 showed the STOMP based method is not suited for the complexity of test case 3. When using STAP-PPF, human motion for the multi-step human sequence is predicted first. Then STAP-PPF considers the mutli-step prediction in pre-planning each robot motion. For each robot motion, STAP-PPF estimates the robot path duration based on the prediction. Then the next robot motion in the sequence is planned considering the predicted human sequence starting from the estimated completion time of the prior robot motion. STAP-PPF and the HAMP methods were used for the eight non-restrictive robot motions in the sequence, as defined in Sec. 2.3. For the short, restrictive robot segments, such as going from a perch position over the piston to having the gripper around the piston, the motion was planned as linear in joint configuration space.
Throughout all tests, the safety controller in the robot control system enforced speed reduction according to robot–human proximity. The speed was reduced to a fraction of full speed according to Eqs. (11)–(13), but only considering the human’s current pose, not the predicted pose. For the experimental workcell, the parameters for computing the speed limit were D, Tr, as of 0.2 m, 0.15 s, and 0.1 m/s2, respectively. The D was selected based on desired human comfort and sensor suite inaccuracy and Tr are as are based on specifications of the robot. Parameters of STAP-PPF were set at Nps of 300 samples, dstart of 0.8 radians, ctol of 0.99, dtol of 0.3 radians, Nsmooth of 2, βa of 0.0001, βr of 0.0067, Nwarp of 2, selected through trial and error. Observations forming the basis of these selections showed that lower values of dstart, ctol, or dtol caused the real-time path warping of STAP-PPF to place too many waypoints in the robot’s path. This caused the robot to reduce speed so as to pass through all waypoints. Higher values of those parameters diminished the capability of STAP-PPF warping. Smaller βa and βr led STAP-PPF to adjust the robot path too slowly to accommodate human deviations. Larger values led STAP-PPF to warp the robots path too severely, leading to excessively long robot paths. Smaller Nsmooth led to sharper corners in the warped robot path while larger Nsmooth minimized robot acceleration changes at the expense of excessive robot path duration. Higher values of Nwarp allowed the path to be warped around the human prediction more accurately, but increasing Nwarp beyond 2 did not result in better human avoidance. STAP-PPF generated less than 300 pre-samples given most human predictions. Hence, Nps was set at 300 to utilize as many pre-samples as possible, but limited to prevent high computation time in case predictions permitted more pre-samples as they are dependent on the duration the human spends in the robot’s workspace. The Fwarp was selected to be 30 Hz to permit robot path updates as fast as the sensor suite cameras provided new data. The computer of the experimental cell, which processed all camera data, generated predictions, and planned robot paths, has an Intel i9 CPU and NVidia RTX-1070 GPU.
5 Results and Discussion
5.1 Avoidance Interval Neural Network Training.
To train and validate the avoidance interval NN, first, a set of over 58 million samples was generated from simulations in which STAP-PPF used the ground-truth avoidance model to generate samples using the procedure at the end of Sec. 3.2.2.
Once the dataset of samples was amassed, it was divided into an 80%/20% split for training and testing, respectively. The NN was fit to the samples in the training set. In training, 100 epochs were performed. In each epoch, every training sample was evaluated by the network. Then the BCE loss was evaluated and backpropagated through the network layers to adjust network parameters, using the adam optimizer with a learning rate of 0.0005.
The samples from the test set were evaluated to show that the network inferred avoid/clear status with an accuracy of 95.5% with a probability threshold (Pavoid) of 0.5. Accuracy mean and standard deviation from five-fold cross-validation were 95.4% and 0.11%, respectively, showing consistency of network training with varying train/test data. The network accuracy was also evaluated at other Pavoid over the range [0.1, 0.9], shown in Fig. 10(a). The duration of robot trajectories while the human–robot team performed test scenario B was averaged over 10 samples at each of the Pavoid levels, shown in Fig. 10(b). These figures show a Pavoid of 0.5 generates the most accurate avoid/clear status and shortest duration robot trajectories. Larger Pavoid make STAP-PPF less conservative in avoiding human predictions, leading to less coordinated human–robot interaction (HRI). Smaller Pavoid make STAP-PPF excessively conservative in avoiding humans, leading to longer path duration. Therefore, selection of Pavoid of 0.5 was substantiated.
The mentioned computer took less than 4 h to generate train/test samples and train the avoidance interval NN. Therefore, when the STAP-PPF is applied to a new workcell, less than 4 hours of preparation are needed for STAP-PPF to be operational.
5.2 STAP-PPF Benchmarking.
To validate STAP-PPF, its performance was compared with the performance of the competing benchmarking methods while performing test cases 1 and 2. Test case 1 demonstrates each planner’s ability to plan for the human performing the nominal human motion. Test case 2 demonstrates each planner’s robustness to deviations in real-time human motion relative to the prediction. One metric for comparison is the duration of the robot’s trajectory to go from the start pose to the goal pose for each test while the human performed the corresponding motions. Another metric discussed is the robot/human separation distance averaged over each test.
5.2.1 Robot Trajectory Durations.
Figure 11 shows the trajectory durations averaged over 20 repetitions each of test case 1 (nominal human timing) and test case 2 (perturbed human timing) with each scenario. The larger bars in Fig. 11 and the upper numbers over the bars indicate the sample mean durations. The hatched bars correspond to STAP-W and STAP-C. The solid bars correspond to the other methods. The thin bars at the top of the large bars and the number in parenthesis over the bars indicate the sample standard deviation. The column for nominal human timing in Fig. 11 shows STAP-W and STAP-C generated robot trajectories that required less execution time than the other methods, all subject to the dynamic experimental scenarios. STAP-PPF path warping enabled the shortest robot trajectory durations for test scenarios B and C with nominal human timing. Even when the human attempted to closely follow nominal timing, slight deviation occurred in the live tests. Path warping allowed STAP-PPF to accommodate these deviations and reduce robot path duration, reducing duration by at least 8% relative to STAP-C and at least 14% relative to others.
When human timing was perturbed, Fig. 11 shows STAP-W and STAP-C still generate shorter robot trajectory durations than other methods. STAP-W generated the lowest robot trajectory durations for all three scenarios. Additionally, the STAP-W robot trajectory duration results were closest to those with nominal human timing. These observations indicate path warping in STAP-PPF mitigated the effect of human timing deviations. Figure 11 also shows that STAP-W and STAP-C robot trajectories resulted in smaller standard deviation in duration, meaning STAP-PPF results in more consistent robot trajectories.
Independent sample t-tests were used to generate 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for difference in population mean robot trajectory durations among pairs of methods. The t-tests show if the conclusions made on the collected samples also apply to the population or only to collected samples. The collected samples may be too few in number or have too great a standard deviation to show significant differences among methods considering the population of samples. In Fig. 12, the bars indicate the lower and upper limits of the CIs for difference in population mean trajectory durations in seconds. Hatched bars and solid bars correspond to the comparisons between STAP-W and STAP-C and comparison of STAP-PPF (STAP-W or STAP-C) to the benchmarking methods, respectively. The thin lines in the middle of each CI bar indicate the sample mean difference in trajectory durations. The dotted horizontal lines at zero are shown for reference.
Figure 12 shows STAP-W and STAP-C result in shorter population robot trajectory durations than the benchmarking methods at 95% confidence, based on the collected samples. This is indicated by all CIs being entirely below zero. The CIs permit the claim that STAP-PPF (STAP-W and STAP-C) generates robot trajectories of shorter duration relative to the benchmarking methods. Figure 12 also shows that the difference in robot trajectory durations with nominal human timing between STAP-W and STAP-C is insignificant at 95% confidence. This is expected since the human follows the prediction and STAP-W and STAP-C generate similar plans to avoid the nominal human prediction. However, when the real-time human timing is perturbed, STAP-W decreases robot trajectory durations at 95% significance relative to STAP-C.
The experiments also permit comparison of the error in trajectory duration estimates generated by each planning method. STAP-PPF robot trajectories took 30% more time to execute than estimated by the STAP-PPF planner. HAMP-S, HAMP-P, and STOMP generated robot trajectories that took 485%, 287%, and 248% more time to complete than each planner’s estimate, respectively. These results show STAP-PPF estimates robot trajectory with much greater accuracy due to consideration of predicted human motion. The robot trajectory duration estimates generated by STAP-PPF could be used in task sequence optimization to select the next robot action that would minimize robot delay.
5.2.2 Robot–Human Separation Distance.
The minimum robot–human separation distance was recorded at 30 Hz during experiments. It is the minimum distance between the robot shape and the real-time human pose generalized to cylinders. The separation distance metric is assumed to be directly proportional to the level of human comfort and safety in prior works [6,7,13,15,20,21,28,29]. Figure 13 shows the average separation distance for STAP-PPF and the benchmarking methods throughout all iterations of test cases 1 and 2. This figure shows STAP-W and STAP-C maintained at least 14% higher average separation between the robot and human than the benchmarking methods when the human closely followed nominal timing. When the human timing deviated significantly from nominal, STAP-W maintained at least 17% greater average robot/human separation distance than the other methods.
T-tests were also applied to the difference in robot/human sample separation distance between STAP-PPF and other methods, with CIs shown in Fig. 14. In Fig. 14, if a CI is entirely above zero meters, then the STAP-PPF method generates greater population mean robot/human separation distance than the comparison method with 95% confidence, based on the collected samples. The figure shows STAP-W maintained greater separation distance than other methods when the human timing was either nominal or perturbed.
5.2.3 Assembly Tests.
The duration and robot-human separation distance were recorded for 20 iterations of test case 3, which was the multi-step assembly sequence, with the STAP-W (STAP-PPF), HAMP-S, and HAMP-P methods. The top left plot in Fig. 15 shows the sample mean and standard deviation of task durations with each method. The top right plot shows the 95% CIs for the difference in population mean task duration of STAP-W relative to the HAMP methods. These plots show STAP-W resulted in durations at least 17% shorter for the assembly task, relative to other methods, indicating other methods could not anticipate when a human would reach into the workspace.
The bottom left plot in Fig. 15 shows the average robot/human separation distance throughout the assembly task for each method. The bottom right plot shows the 95% CIs for the difference in population mean separation distance of STAP-W relative to the HAMP methods. The sample mean separation differences were almost the same, within 4 cm, for the three methods and all greater than 49 cm. The CIs show separation distance was less with STAP-W relative to HAMP-P. However, since all three methods resulted in average separation of 49 cm, which is large relative to the workcell size, the CI showing difference between STAP-W and HAMP-P is not relevant. The separation distances with test cases 1 and 2 were smaller because they challenged the methods using less realistic motions. However, test case 3 is designed to demonstrate each planner’s effectiveness in a realistic scenario.
When conducting experiments, other observations became apparent that may have contributed to the differences in robot path durations and robot/human separation. It appeared that the human predictions for the three test scenarios were too complex for the STOMP based planner and HAMP-P planner because those planners generate a path directly through the predicted human poses. Inspection of the STOMP based method revealed complex human motions could prevent STOMP from finding an equilibrium robot path that avoided predictions. For example, a predicted human pose at one time-step repelled the robot up and then the predicted human pose at a later time-step repelled the robot downward, counteracting avoidance of the previous pose. Complexity of human motion for scenarios B and C led HAMP-P to estimate high probability of occupancy for much of the workcell between the robot and human for the entire task. This led the cost function of HAMP-P to estimate that a direct trajectory through the human prediction was optimal since the human prediction couldn’t be avoided. The HAMP-S method often reacted to a current human pose with a trajectory that deviated far from the human. If HAMP-S re-planned the robot path to avoid a real-time human pose and then the human backed away, HAMP-S would remain on the avoidance path rather than return to a more direct path. This led to a delay in robot trajectory completion with HAMP-S. Since STAP-PPF considered the timing of the human prediction in generating nominal robot trajectories, it was able to find paths around the human prediction that STOMP and HAMP-P could not find. STAP-PPF planned robot paths that accounted for times when the human approached the robot and times when the human backed away to find optimal paths, unlike HAMP-S.
For durations of robot path generated for scenario A compared to scenarios B and C, STAP-PPF yields greater improvements in reducing robot duration times as the human motion complexity within the task(s) increases. In other words, scenario A involved human motion of lower complexity compared to scenarios B and C. Scenarios B and C required the human to cross the robot’s path multiple times while scenario A only had the human cross the robot’s path once. The robot duration results showed that the reduction in path duration by using STAP-PPF with path warping relative to other methods was less with scenario A compared to scenarios B and C. Comparison of robot/human separation distance from test case 3 relative to test cases 1 and 2 also indicate that complexity of the HRC task may affect the utility of STAP-PPF for maintaining robot/human separation. The average robot/human separation for test case 3 was much higher than for test cases 1 and 2. This is because the sequence in test case 3 had more steps and took more time to complete. Additionally, not all actions in test case 3 required close robot/human interaction. Alternatively, if close robot/human interaction is not anticipated, then a different planning method with lower computation time could be used. Therefore, future research will develop a framework for selecting a path planner for each robot motion based on factors such as anticipated level of HRI and overlap of robot/human motions.
A limitation of STAP-PPF is computation time required to plan robot paths considering predicted human motion. Even though STAP-PPF computes 15 times faster than its predecessor, STAP, it still required 5 s of planning time to generate time-optimal paths. This necessitated the path warping feature of STAP-PPF, since the trajectory could not be regenerated at real-time speeds. In other words, STAP-PPF could update human predictions and warp the nominal path in real-time, considered to be at least the camera update rate of 30 Hz. However, time-optimality of the warped path could not be guaranteed. Computation time limits the amount of human deviation STAP-PPF can tolerate. Still, STAP-PPF can warp the robot path to accommodate deviations in human pose or timing in reaching for a target. But, if the human changes his/her sequence and reaches for a target not close to the anticipated target, then STAP-PPF path warping can’t accommodate the large difference between real and anticipated human motion and the STAP-PPF planner can’t re-plan before the human finishes the motion.
Ideally, STAP-PPF would regenerate the entire robot path at a real-time speed so the time-optimality of the robot path could be maintained. This would also allow STAP-PPF to handle a wider range of human variations. Future work can explore approximation of the SSM effect on robot speed with a neural network as well to reduce path planner computation time. Another improvement for future work would be consideration of the probability of robot/human intersection (Pint), output from the avoidance interval NN from Sec. 3.2.2, in determining cost of robot connections when planning. A challenge with including probability in STAP-PPF’s planner is relating the probability of robot/human intersection to a time delay in the planner’s cost function so STAP-PPF’s estimate of path duration is not distorted.
This work presented the STAP-PPF framework for human motion prediction and robot path planning. STAP-PPF can be used in an HRC workcell to predict motions of humans reaching for objects, pre-plan nominal robot paths offline, re-plan upcoming robot motion segments as STAP-PPF updates human predictions, and warp robot paths in real-time to avoid updated human predictions. STAP-PPF pre-plans time-optimal robot paths considering the spatio-temporal constraints imposed by the human predictions and SSM enabled safety controller. Results show that STAP-PPF generated robot trajectories of at least 14% shorter duration relative to others, meaning less interrupted by real-time human activity. STAP-PPF also maintained at least 17% greater robot–human separation distance relative to others in tests designed to challenge the planners. Additionally, STAP-PPF estimated robot path execution times more accurately than other methods. Hence, STAP-PPF can be applied in an HRC workcell requiring close human–robot collaboration to mitigate production interruption and human discomfort. STAP-PPF robot execution time estimates can also be used to generate optimal robot sequences. Future work will investigate using STAP-PPF outputs in HRC sequence optimization.
Funding was provided by the NSF/NRI: INT: COLLAB:Manufacturing USA: Intelligent Human-Robot Collaboration for Smart Factory (Award ID #:1830383). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Conflict of Interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
Data Availability Statement
The datasets generated and supporting the findings of this article are obtainable from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
- D =
min robot-human separation distance to permit robot motion
- ctol =
dot product tolerance for connecting waypoints in the STAP-PPF warped path
- ndof =
number of robot degrees-of-freedom
- hs =
human pose at the start of a reach motion
- qd =
robot configuration nearest qk along the linear path in joint config. space
kth robot configuration in the nominal path after the nth iteration of path warping
- qn =
robot configuration after the nth iteration of pre-sample adjustment
- qnear =
configuration in in the neighborhood of qnew
- qnew =
a new robot configuration sample
- as, Tr =
max abs. robot Cartesian deceleration and robot reaction time, respectively
set of all avoidance intervals due to human occupancy of point (x, y, z)
ith avoidance intervals due to the oth human occupying point (x, y, z)
set of all avoidance intervals for the robot connection from qp to qc
- dq =
spacing of intermediate q between qp and qc for checking SSM effects
position of the robot’s end-effector found via forward kinematics at configuration q
robot path planner’s node graph
translational Jacobian of the jth point or end- effector of the robot, respectively, at cfg. q
- Nsmooth =
num. points to be smoothed by warping
- Pp, qx, h =
human pelvis location, quaternion for link x, and pose vector for the upper body
- Ptgt =
human wrist target location for a reach
vector of max speed for each robot joint
- qp, qc =
robot configurations at the ends of a connection for travel from qp (parent) to qc (child)
- Δt =
time horizon for anticipating SSM effect due to future human poses
- t(qp, qc) =
estimated duration for robot travel from qp to qc
earliest time of robot arrival for qp
- tlp(x, y, z) =
last time robot passage is not blocked at point (x, y, z)
last time robot passage is not blocked by the oth human occupying point (x, y, z)
- tlp(qp, qc) =
last time robot passage is not blocked for the robot connection from qp to qc
- tp, tc =
time when the robot should leave qp and arrive at qc, respectively
start and end time, respectively, of the ith avoidance interval for the oth human
- vest, d =
estimated velocity of the human wrist for a reaching motion and distance between Ptgt and the initial wrist position, respectively
- vh =
velocity of human toward the robot
- Vij, Dij =
vector between the ith human point and jth robot point, and the distance between those points given by the Euclidean norm of Vij
- vlim(q, i, j, th) =
robot speed reduction factor due to the velocity of the jth robot point at configuration q relative to the ith human point at time th of the human prediction
- vmax(q, i, j, th) =
maximum speed permitted by SSM considering the jth point on the robot at config. q and ith point on the human at time th
- vrobot(q, i, j, th) =
velocity of the jth robot point at config. q relative to the ith human point at time th of the human prediction
input vector for the avoidance interval NN considering step t of the human prediction
- zh =
input vector for the human motion predictor
- α =
pre-sample adjustment gain
- βr, βa =
gains for repulsive and attractive warping
attraction for the kth config. along the robot’s path after the nth iteration
repulsion due to robot and human proximity at the kth robot config. after the nth iteration
smoothing repulsion for the kth config. along the robot’s path due to repulsion on the lth config. after the nth iteration