Overseer

360 Degree sensing for situational awareness in remote environments.

Overview

Situational awareness at remote locations while operating teleoperated systems is key to mission success. Most teleoperation solutions focus on the primary workspace of the robot or equipment just allowing the user to perform their task. These systems tend to provide standard camera feeds or depth sensor, which, for a typical 70° FOV camera, only allows an 8% view of the surrounding environment. This means the rest of the 92% of the remote environment is a “blind spot” for the operator. This makes being in virtual environment a very isolating experience, with the user often loosing situational awareness, an understanding of the wider environment, and context of the operation. So, to operate efficiently often personal need to overwatch the physical environment, in-case of a collision or an authorised personal entering the area, or a large number of static cameras need to be added to the environment and additional personal continuously monitoring these feeds. This makes rapid deployment and perform operations difficult and complex to achieve.

Approach

Overseer combines state-of-the-art 360° cameras, LiDAR distance measurement and omni-direction audio technology into one unified sensor module, capable of integrating with new or existing teleoperated systems. Removing the blind spot currently experienced during remote operations, it increases operator’s situation awareness promoting safe and efficient working with a full understanding of the remote environment. Overseer provides the human operator the ability to work with confidence within their virtual environment, empowering them to do more with the equipment they have.

Solution

Overseer with 360°-360° visual and audio gives a full holistic overview of the situation in the remote environment providing the much-needed sensory stimulus that allows them to utilise their training and assess the situation in real-time. This allows personal who are operating remote equipment to work with confidence, improving performance and efficiency.

Overseer will be developed in partnership with Createc Robotics to provide a full Iris support right out the box. This will enable system integrators that use Iris to plug and play Overseer into their system. Createc’s initial development of the Iris framework was carried out as part of the ‘Elephants to Ants’ project, a £1.5M collaborative research project funded by the NDA and BEIS. Since the completion of that project in September 2019, Createc has founded a spin-out company, Createc Robotics, to carry forward the development of the Iris framework and its ecosystem. Createc Robotics is currently expanding the set of software tools available to make it easy for non-experts to build their own telepresence systems. Createc Robotics aim to make Iris a standard for robotic system development.

Conclusion

Operators of any equipment in remote environment will benefit from both 360°-360° visualisation of their surrounds and audio direct to their VR or visualisation system allowing them to response quickly if a volatile situation occurs. In addition to the immediate operator other support staff will benefit from the additional information presented to them allowing them to support the operator using the same data that the operator is using. Such operator would include, but not exclusive too, military personal performing EOD operations using remote equipment, nuclear decommission or maintenance worker using remote equipment, remote inspection of hard-to-reach areas, for example oil and gas equipment. Each of these are explains where the situation around the workspace can be very volatile and can change very quickly.

matt

Matt Mellor, Managing Director

Matt Mellor started his career as an academic working in research and development at Oxford University where his specialist field was in computer vision and robotics with medical application. But in writing papers, which he says were mainly “read by other academics so they could cite it in their research”, Matt could see there was a vital component missing.

“To turn that research into a product I learned that you have got to make that happen yourself to ensure others recognise the value of it,” said Matt. “That started me on an odyssey to learn about the full process of technological development. That means not just learning about technology, but also about business, people, finance – all the parts you need to make something happen which is going to make a positive change in the world.”

With that in mind, Matt moved to Cumbria and joined REACT Engineering. “REACT put the emphasis on entrepreneurship and I joined the company to apply what I had learned in nuclear medicine to nuclear engineering.” In particular, Matt was able to apply his knowledge in medical imaging to provide smart, technological solutions to the nuclear clean-up industry.

In 2007, Matt was the technical lead in setting up REACT’s own spin-out – aerial surveying company, Hi-Def, which gave him valuable experience of the process involved in setting up a spin-out business. Hi-Def went on to be a sustainable, successful business in its own right and in 2016 became part of the BioConsult SH group. Meanwhile, Matt set up Createc in June 2010, and as CEO has led the company to achieve impressive growth ever since.

Createc started out with just three members of staff – Matt, Alan Shippen and Pete Rodgers. The company’s mission was to create a profitable business out of computer vision and robotics research and development, demonstrating the value such a service adds to industry. Building on technological expertise in the nuclear sector learned from REACT Engineering, Createc developed its N-Visage® technology which went on to be used in the clean-up following the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.

Closer to home, Createc used its intellectual property in computer vision to build a business opportunity and set up spin-out company, Sportlight. Earlier this year, it launched a second spin-out from its robotics expertise creating Createc Robotics.

Looking ahead, as society and industry move out of a Covid-19 lockdown, Matt sees robotics playing an ever more important role – but warns those who think it will be an overnight change, to be more patient. “Society has always overestimated what technological development will take place over a two to five-year period. But it has always underestimated what development will take place over 20 years,” said Matt.

“Technological development is an accumulation of small goals which build on top of each other. It creeps forward so that over a 20-year period people then look back and are amazed at how much the world has changed. In 20 years’ time we are going to have a lot more robots, and we will have improved collaboration between human and machine. In some areas that might involve helping to remove people from having to carry out tasks in hazardous environments. In other areas it might be giving people more senses and more capabilities.”

Createc applies its thinking and technologies to any problem to find a solution, and takes a flexible approach when doing so. This means that it can adapt for a range of industries and a range of situations. “We look at the way we can do something, not where we can do it,” said Matt. It’s an approach which has seen its solutions applied in a range of industries and settings, including nuclear and defence, rail and security. Among future growth areas for Createc are heavy engineering, major industrial and general construction.

Createc has received two Queen’s Awards in recent years, one for International Trade and one for Innovation, recognising the company’s success in developing technology. The company is also proud to have won awards for innovation from The Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET), The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Createc’s strategy as it moves beyond its 10-year anniversary is to concentrate on research and development to launch a series of further spin-out companies. Two things Matt is keen to influence in the wider economy to help support the company’s ambitions are funding and leadership. “We need to make sure that the UK is more start-up friendly. And we need more entrepreneurs who want to come and run these businesses,” said Matt. “To me an entrepreneur takes complete ownership and picks their way forward and proceeds confidently in the face of doubt.”

“We have had a sustained growth rate of 40 per cent, and we are focused on continuing to grow at this rate. In the first ten years we have grown from a company with three people turning over £180,000 to 30 people turning over £3.5m. To sustain that level of growth by the end of the next ten years we would have 300 people turning over more than £60m.”

Matt has a clear vision of how the company will keep driving forward, and his motivation and appetite to lead the company to further success is clear. “My motivation comes from bringing something completely new to life which results in the world being a better place,” he said. “Seeing all the pieces come together and creating this thing which creates an economic benefit and also has a positive impact on the world is really satisfying.”