Looking at the growth and development of remote operation technology

30th March 2017
Anna Flockett

One of the most important aspects of gearing technology has always been positioning accuracy. Whether gears are used for surgical robots, bomb disposal units or subsea Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), it is important that axial motion is precise. However, this has become increasingly important in recent years. Graham Mackrell, Managing Director of precision gearing specialist Harmonic Drive UK, explains the engineering developments that make this possible.

Recent developments in the fields of automation and robotics have led to a situation where we now work alongside robotic creations. Whether it is healthcare professionals’ teleoperating with a surgical robot or offshore engineers controlling ROVs to inspect subsea pipework, robotisation extends to every industry.

Of course, some of these technologies are nothing particularly new. ROVs, for example, have been in existence for the better part of a century and have operated in offshore oil and gas applications for several decades. However, the variety and importance of the tasks ROVs complete has changed significantly.

Where ROVs were once responsible for simple tasks, such as feeding back imagery of an area or moving objects around, they are now regularly given a range of responsibilities. In fact, modern ROVs come equipped with a variety of paraphernalia to do everything from cut into surfaces and manipulate objects to measure water temperature and density.

Such impressive feats of engineering are only possible with equally impressive components. ROV gears with high positioning accuracy are vital, without which it is not possible to guarantee repeatable performance and this results in the ROV being unable to complete a task effectively.

Similarly, ROVs are typically used to navigate the depths of the ocean that humans cannot. As such, they require gears with a suitable pressure tolerance and endurance, such as Harmonic Drive’s HDUF component sets. Without the ability to operate sufficiently under this pressure, any levels of high positioning accuracy become redundant.

Mission critical
Beyond the depths of the ocean, teleoperation is also commonplace in the global military and defence industries to assist bomb disposal units. Remote controlled robots are often used to disarm or safely transport explosive devices on behalf of personnel, who operate it from a safe distance.

Aside from the obvious importance of reliability when handling an explosive device, it is also critical that these robots have high accuracy to provide intelligence to the operator.

Military personnel typically use a visual feed to manoeuvre bomb disposal robots. The feed is typically provided by cameras situated on the arm of the robot. If the arm is unable to rotate or move seamlessly to provide a thorough view of surroundings, it hinders the effectiveness of the entire operation.

This alone emphasises how teleoperation greatly assists us in realising the true potential of robotics. It aids us in not just working alongside robots, but doing so in a way that extends the reach of human workers to safely achieve more.

With developments in electrical engineering and the right investments in precision gearing, it is likely that teleoperation will soon revolutionise the way we interact with the world. ROVs may soon allow us to explore previously inconceivable depths, while bomb disposal specialists could disarm explosives as smoothly as surgeons conduct surgery.

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