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This project aims at developing concepts for the automation of construction equipment in agriculture and forestry, as well as building construction. In this context, concepts from mobile robotics shall be applied on construction equipment - cooperating with companies working in these domains. In a concrete application, autonomous control of a mobile bucket excavator from Volvo CE, Konz are dealt with. The objective is assisting a bucket excavator's operator by executing complex subtasks autonomously - without the need of manual intervention.
The autonomous excavator project THOR (Terraforming Heavy Outdoor Robot) has the long-term goal to let an 18 ton mobile excavator (VOLVO EW-180B) perform landscaping tasks fully autonomous. Therefore, the real research machine is equipped with electrohydraulic control valves, length measurement sensors, yaw sensors, laser-scanners and powerful PC hardware.
As the real excavator creates excavation- and lifting forces of a few tenthousand newton, it has a high hazard potential for human beings and buildings in the environment. For safe and cheap testing of implemented algorithms, a realistic simulation -and test environment was created, which contains a lifelike model of the excavator and its possible environment. The machines behavior and its interaction with dynamic objects in the environment is realistically simulated by a physics engine.
So far, the developed robots should not touch or even damage other objects. Therefore, the modeling of deformable objects or particle systems was not necessary. In contrast to these projects the autonomous excavator should on the one hand detect surface changes with its environment sensors (laser-scanners, cameras) and on the other hand react to changes of the soil caused by the machine itself or other influences. To allow for simulated testing, a particle soil-simulation was developed which uses the parallel computation power of modern graphics cards via the OpenCL interface.