Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego (SSC San Diego) has developed an unmanned vehicle and sensor operator control interface capable of controlling and monitoring multiple sets of heterogeneous systems simultaneously. The modularity, scalability and flexible user interface of the Multi-robot Operator Control Unit (MOCU) enables control of a wide range of vehicles and sensors in varying mission scenarios. MOCU currently controls all of the SSC San Diego developmental vehicles including land, air, sea, and undersea vehicles, the Spartan ACTD USV, the iRobot PackBot, and the Family of Integrated Rapid Response Equipment (FIRRE) vehicle and sensors. This paper will discuss how modularity in software and hardware has allowed SSC to create a single OCU with the capability to control a wide variety of unmanned systems.
The military has incorporated many robotic systems into the battlefield. A robotic system may consist of a single vehicle or unattended sensor† or multiple vehicles or sensors. The vast majority of these systems use proprietary protocols requiring the creation and maintenance of a custom (stovepipe) operator control unit (OCU) with the ability to only control a single asset type or a very limited subset of assets. With missions ranging from improvised explosive devices (IED) disposal to surveillance, the systems require mission-specific control of their functionality and mission-specific information displayed to the operator. Some control units must fit in the operator’s hands while others have large computational requirements and must be located in the back of a HMMWV or at a central land-based location.
SSC San Diego has been working in the robotics field since the early 1960’s, during which time a wealth of corporate knowledge and lessons learned have been acquired. Most of robotics projects worked on by SSC San Diego resulted in the creation of custom operator control units. Of these, the Multiple Resource Host Architecture (MRHA) was the most capable and flexible. This OCU was created for the Mobile Detection Assessment and Response System (MDARS) program to control both unattended sensors and mobile vehicles using a distributed architecture. While the MRHA is scalable (elements can be added or removed to suit the needs of the installed system and it can run on one or many computers), it is difficult to expand its capabilities. For example, to control a different type of robot or monitor a different kind of sensor or to use a different map or video display the MRHA code itself has to be modified. Two of the most valuable lessons SSC San Diego has learned are: (1) once you have an OCU that can control one type of unmanned system you will want to modify it “just a little” to control another, and (2) each new vehicle controlled will require extensive changes to the user interface, either due to a customer requirement or the nature of the device being controlled. To avoid time-consuming and expensive changes to a monolithic OCU to support new devices or technologies a new approach was needed.
MOCU has been designed to minimize these issues by using a modular, scalable, and flexible architecture. Modularity allows for a breadth of functionality, such as communicating in unrelated protocols or displaying video with a proprietary video codec. Modularity also allows for third party expansion of MOCU. Scalability allows MOCU to be installed on a wide range of hardware. MOCU also allows the user to define what information is displayed and determine what control is needed for each system. The same core software is currently used on a wide variety of projects, each utilizing these attributes in its own way.