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The overall objective of the Strategic Research Cluster (SRC) in Space Robotics Technologies is to deliver by 2023/2024 key technologies at a significant scale suitable for two major application domains: orbital and surface exploration. More specifically this 2016 SRC assumes as reference/target scenarios in-orbit servicing and planetary rover autonomous exploration.

This project, ERGO (European Robotic Goal-Oriented Autonomous Controller) is targeting the second operational Grant (OG2) of the COMPET 04 2016 call, namely.

The main challenge for OG2 is to realise a software framework for the development of highly autonomous space robotics missions. In these a robot system, given a high level goal, will (re)plan, schedule and oversee the execution of elementary actions to attain the goal, considering Time/ Space/Resources constraints”.

Following above statement, ERGO proposal is built around the following key aspects:

  • The specific objective of ERGO is then to deliver an advanced yet flexible space autonomous software framework/system suitable for single and/or collaborative space robotic means/missions (orbital and surface rovers) demanding robust operations with adaptable levels of autonomy.
  • In order to achieve this challenging objective, the ERGO team has been settled such to guarantee strong background both in robotics in general and operational autonomous space robotic missions, as well as state of the art expertise in goal oriented autonomy, planning, guidance and navigation for robotic applications, formal validation and verification, on-board critical software design and development and components and models based critical SW design.

In line with the SRC goals, ERGO shall fulfil, as minimum, the following main objectives:

Obj 1. Goal-based commanding. ERGO shall be able to be commanded via high-level objectives that will be decomposed by the system into low-level commands managed by the RCOS output of PERASPERA OG1.

Obj 2. Planning capabilities: Given a number of high-level goals or a pre-determined plan, ERGO shall be able to (dynamically) generate plans considering temporal, space (e.g. locations, environment) and resource (e.g. power, RAM memory, CPU computation capabilities, etc.) constraints.

Obj 3. Dynamic re-planning: ERGO shall detect, as soon as possible, whether the revealed conditions do not allow the consecution of a given goal, discarding it and updating the plan accordingly.

Obj 4. Scheduling and overseeing capabilities. ERGO shall be able to schedule the low level commands and monitor the observations, handling reactive and deliberative capabilities in a harmonic fashion.

Obj 5. Adjustable/selectable level of autonomy (E1 to E4 see Section 3.2.3). Even if the major objective of ERGO is to allow goal oriented commanding and planning/scheduling, the system shall be designed to adapt the level of autonomy, from tele-operation to full autonomy, according to the mission requirements and or event occurrence. The applied level of autonomy will be selectable by ground operator, not by ERGO itself.

Obj 6. Flexibility with respect to application domains. As already addressed ERGO shall be suitable both for orbital and surface exploration.

Obj 7. Applicability to terrestrial applications. ERGO shall be suitable for terrestrial application were high level of autonomy are required, e.g. dangerous and harsh environments.

In addition to the above objectives directly derived from the SRC requests, it is proposed for ERGO to tackle the following objective:

Obj 8. Suitable for flight. ERGO shall be designed and implemented using programming languages suitable for on-board flight software solution and future space robotics missions. The algorithms will be designed and selected taking into account flight software technical constraints (e.g. processor requirements, memory allocation, etc.) that would allow the system to be migrated/codeable/suitable for an operation flight SW.

The strong, and most likely unique, value of setting Obj. 8 can be summarized as follows:

  • It is expected that the output of ERGO will be a Goal Oriented Autonomous Controller Software Framework whose design and implementation will be such to present already the technical constraints (coding language and rules, processing requirements, memory allocations, etc.) that will allow the system to be easily codeable/suitable for an operation flight SW.
  • As direct consequence of this aspect, the work expected for a user of ERGO at the end of the project will be limited to the instantiation of the software framework (in terms of required modelling, planning) with respect to its specifying mission scenario.
  • The technical solutions (ERGO components) and the team (research entities pursuing technological developments mandatory for ERGO) selected for ERGO has been thus based on selecting state-of-the-art technologies that would fulfil objectives 1 to 8 (i.e. the APSI java implementation solution has not been considered for ERGO because Java is not suitable for flight solutions).

It shall be stressed that the combination of Objectives 1 to 8 is such that ERGO will be into the position of being assumed as the European, and possible not limited to Europe, standard for Autonomous Goal Oriented Software Framework solution for robotic (orbital and surface) missions.