The COLIBRI Programme

(COLlaborative Intelligent Bio-Robotic Interventions)

Project proposal

(DRAFT - Version 1.0)

Author: Silvano de Gennaro


This document proposes the setup of a preliminary study case upon the developement of a detector maintenence system based on micro-robotics, targeted to all LHC detectors. The system consists of a number of task specific intelligent actuators, ranging from 2 to 8 cm diameter, depending on the task, free to move around the detector along a monorail circuit covering the major critical points that can require maintenence and interventions. Such a system could allow punctual maintenence and diagnostics interventions without the necessity to stop the beam or open the detectors. This will reduce dramatically the number of LHC shutdowns and warmups needed for human intervention.


  • An introduction to micro-robotics
  • Robots are today widely used in industry for two main distinct applications: Production Efficiency and Telecontrolled Operations [3]. The first involves programmed repetitive tasks, usually performed on conveyer belts by unintelligent powerful robots, specially programmed for one action. The second includes many applications in industry and research, particularly in hostile environments or operating fields unreachable to humans. Being both hostile and not easily accessible, LHC detectors fall in this category, so we will focus on teleoperation.

    Teleoperation is not a new concept at CERN. The MANTIS project introduced a teleoperated arm with force feedback, used for occasional interventions. Today, teleoperation has remarkably improved on precision and flexibilty, by using semi-intelligent robots, usually accessed through a VR interface. The operator selects a "virtual tool" to accomplish a certain task. The selected tool will automatically program the robot to perform that task, but the robot can also learn from experience, so the more it performs the task, the better it does it [1]. Applications of this can be found in volcano, deep ocean and space exploration. The nuclear industry is of course another big user of robot technology, mainly for inspection, hazardous handling and maintenance.

    Most of these applications use large scale robots, which move on land, water or in space, and perform usually heavy tasks. These robots could not easily fit in our detectors. Also, designing complicated arms to access the detector's inner parts would be a major challange. Fortunately robots do not need to be big. Research in micro-robotics has gone as far as producing an intelligent 1 cube centimeter robot, at EPFL in Lausanne. The "Laboratoire de MicroInformatique" (LAMI) of EPFL developed quite an interesting range of micro-robots. One in particular, the Khepera, developed in collaboration with the Swiss company K-Team SA, features processors powerful enough to be programmed using genetic algorithms, based on neural networks and fuzzy logic. Tests showed that it can reach a good level of autonomous evolutionary learning. The Khepera is based on modular, stackable 55mm diameter boards. Each module contains a processor and is dedicated to a given task. By selecting the appropriate modules, it is possible to configure a robot to accomplish a particular task in certain conditions. For instance, by plugging a radiocontrol turret, a video turret and a grip turret onto Khepera, one has a 70mm tall tobot that can move around, see and detect given kinds of objects, pick them up and put them elsewhere, with a precision of a fraction of a millimiter. One can easily imagine making a Khepera that can, plug and unplug cables, skew trimmers, toggle switches, take electronic measurements and perhaps even weld and replace small boards. Now imagine we put it inside a detector.

  • The Colibri Programme
  • Benefits and applications
  • The following is a non exaustive collection of possible applications, mostly derived from input from members of LHC experiments. All of these operations can be performed without beam stoppage.

  • Technology Transfer
  • This project has an extremely high potential of technology transfer. Apart from a clear interest in collaboration with Universities (for instance, EPFL), exchanges are likely to happen with the nuclear and space industry. The micro-robotic approach represents a cost downscaling of at least one order of magnitude, compared to the traditional large robot technology employed so far. Micro-robots will acquire a growing importance in tomorrow's industry and life in general. Once more, CERN can play a fundamental role to help develop this technology.

  • Conclusions
  • The project presented in this paper can lead to a real step forward towards improving the availability and efficiency of LHC. The basic technology is available and acquireable at low cost. Expertise and applications are rapidly expanding, as robotics moves from the limited high-end industrial and resarch environment, to become part of our daily life. Vacuum cleaners, nurse trolleys, watchdogs, lawnmowers are being robotised to perform their task autonomously. They are just one step away from being on supermarkets shelves. Within the next 4-6 years we should expect large scale or even mass production, with increasing power and functionality at reducing costs. CERN cannot just ignore this opportunity. Of course further study and testing are necessary to assess realistic values for precision, costs and effectiveness, and to investigate boundary operation conditions, particularly under strong radiation. Such studies need to be performed within the shortest delays, in order to integrate the required hardware within the final detectors design.

  • References
  • [1] Cannon DJ. & Thomas Geb - Virtual Tools for Supervisory and Collaborative Control of Robots. Presence Vol. 6, No 1, Feb 1997, 1-28.
    [2] Slutski L. - Online Telecontrol Techniques Based on Object Parameter Adjusting. Presence Vol. 6, No 3, June 1997, 255-267.
    [3] Vertut J. & Coiffet P. - Teleoperation and Robotics: Applications and technology. NJ:Prentice-Hall 1985.

  • Links

  • Last update May 19, 1998.