Mobile Robotics

Worried about Skynet? We're not.

Robots have captured the human imagination for nearly a century. From 1927's "Metropolis" to 1956's "Forbidden Planet" to "The Terminator" in 1984, science fiction has brought robots into the public consciousness and inspired engineer and cinema-goer alike. While robots are common in science fiction, their real-world counterparts exist mainly in research laboratories and niche applications. Robots can be found welding automobile body panels on assembly lines, transporting merchandise in warehouses, and capturing scientific data on the surface of Mars. Unfortunately, a few saucer-shaped vacuum cleaners notwithstanding, few robots exist in our everyday lives.

CASE STUDY :

PointCom, DRIVER, and Augmented Teleoperation
Making Ground Robot Control Easy, Efficient, Safe, and Fun!

CASE STUDY :

Interceptor Robotic Sentry System (RSS)
Protecting military bases with QS-developed autonomous robots!

CASE STUDY :

Vehicle Stability System Plus (VSS+)
Enhancing Stability for Manned and Unmanned Ground Vehicles

The lack of pervasive robot application stems mostly from difficulties in sensing, perception, and control. Robots cannot perceive their environment nearly as well as humans, and they often have a hard time making the right motions in a timely and responsive fashion. This leads to difficulty in performing even the simplest of tasks in real-world scenarios.

In 2005, QS began a program to begin addressing many of the challenges plaguing mobile robotics. Since then, the company has built a strong and expanding team and technology base dedicated to making ground vehicles smarter, safer, and more robust, and has delivered solutions to prove it. We can leverage these capabilities to help your organization build new products. Across the spectrum – from manual teleoperation, to augmented teleoperation, to “shared control,” to semi or fully autonomous vehicles, QS has or is working on the technology and products and can adapt them to meet your toughest product requirements. QS’ long-term, deep experience in algorithm engineering, software development, modeling and simulation, ground vehicles, and controls means that we can build end to end intelligent vehicle solutions that solve real world problems and actually work. Long before the autonomous vehicle technology craze and flurry of VC backed insta-companies, QS was demonstrating long-distance, semi-autonomous ground robots with obstacle detection and avoidance, automated path-planning, and touch-screen user interfaces on PDAs. What are we doing now, and how might we help your robotics program? We’re glad you asked!

Intelligent Algorithms

Fundamentally, the difference between a “dumb” piece of hardware and a viable robot is the software that it runs. At the heart of that software are algorithms – mathematical equations that process information and make decisions, enabling all of the functionalities one associates with robots. QS has extensive expertise in developing, testing, and implementing intelligent algorithms for sensing, perception, and control of mobile robots and intelligent ground vehicles. Building on the companies’ roots in the signal and image processing domain, QS creates algorithms that help robots perceive their world, plan paths through it, detect and avoid obstacles, identify roadways and interpret road signs, and much more. Yeah, we use all the techniques you’ve read about – neural networks, fuzzy logic, transforms of all flavors, adaptive this and that – but the secret sauce is in how these sorts of techniques (or new ones) are used to make the desired functionality happen. Our team are experts at algorithm development, from early research to simple prototypes to real-time implementations on embedded processors. If your system needs to get smarter, it probably needs some new algorithms – and we’re here to help you build and integrate those into a feature-rich, effective, robust robotics solution.

Augmented Teleoperation and Shared Control

We’ll admit it: we’re smitten with remote control robots. The idea of executing dangerous or dirty tasks via a real-world electromechanical avatar excites our imaginations and gets our technical juices flowing. We know we’re not alone; it seems you can’t turn around at any vehicle or defense tradeshow without tripping over an unmanned, teleoperated system. Thousands of robots have been teleoperated by US soldiers in-theater, saving limbs and lives for a decade. NASA engineers continue to explore Mars with the long-lived Opportunity lander.

With all this excitement, it may surprise the unitiated that teleoperation still has a long way to go. Most teleoperated interfaces provide myopic, limited viewpoints and are difficult for the user to control. Kuldgey interfaces and control schemes are more the rule than the exception. Issues related to communication and control latencies, management of bandwidth, and feedback modality and quality must all be solved if teleoperated systems are to live up to their promise!

Since 2005, QS has been working hard to improve teleoperated interfaces and systems. Leveraging a variety of algorithmic and software-based technologies and interface approaches, we augment the user to provide them with better situational awareness and more intuitive, responsive control. Our systems combine elements of well-designed, application-specific user interface (including augmented reality overlays), scene recognition and understanding, task-specific scene compression/decompression, intelligent bandwidth management, and semi-autonomous behaviors to yield teleoperation solutions never before seen. We’ve built teleoperated vehicles (of all classes), forensic microscopes, robot arms (for manufacturing), and more, and shown that the techniques and technologies we develop and apply result in truly state-of-the-art, effective products that find eager acceptance from the users.

We also develop and incorporate technologies such as “shared control” – algorithmic approaches that let humans “do the driving” under normal circumstances but “take the wheel” automatically when circumstances dictate. This is useful for teleoperated situations in which the driver is remote and may not see a rapidly approaching threat to the vehicle, or the communication link drops out, or similar. It’s also useful when the driver is behind the wheel but may not be able to react quickly enough to keep themselves from an unstable or dangerous situation. The challenges of algorithmically determining how and when to hand off control, and the manner in which this is accomplished, is a key aspect of the technology. QS has been working on this, both independently and in conjunction with university collaborators, since roughly 2010. Our collaborators have gone on to found some pretty impressive autonomous vehicle companies, and we continue to develop shared control and integrate it into our manned and unmanned vehicle control schemes!

We can also handle highly variable or non-ideal communication links. Our team blends scene compression, network management, virtualized representations, smart caching, and related technologies to achieve robust real-time teleoperation in bandwidths as small as 50kb. We don’t waste bits, and use every trick in the book to wring value out of the sensors, algorithms, software, and hardware to overcome the tight or uneven pipes that make traditional solutions DOA. We can use our expertise and technology to help your organization synergize your robotic systems with their comm links, and vice versa. If you’re looking for teleop solutions and communications is one of your issues (and it always is) – QS should be on your “must call” list.

Autonomous Vehicle Fleet Management

While many organizations (including QS) are working on building intelligent ground vehicle platforms, a major challenge, which has gone largely unaddressed to date, will be the management of fleets of these vehicles. When thousands (or millions) of autonomous or robotic vehicles are on the road or forward deployed in combat, the ability to monitor, command, and control them will be critical. On the military side, providing high level commands to ground robots performing various scouting, delivery, or attack missions or interceding with semi-autonomous or manual teleop control during sensitive moments will be key enablers. On the civilian side, those operating autonomous fleets will need to be able to remotely intercede for passengers when a vehicle has a subsystem failure or roadway or other issues confuse onboard systems.

Building on a decade of teleoperation research and development, and in conjunction with US-military funded program on intercontinental teleoperation, QS is working to develop new technology and software for autonomous vehicle fleet management. Using limited communication pipes and operating at inter-state (or greater) distances, these products will facilitate the “call center”-like teleoperation support centers that can be used to support intelligent vehicle fleets, helping them manage these assets with or without humans inside the vehicle.

If your business plans include deployments of autonomous ground vehicles in any quantity, or over a wide geographic area, QS has unique approaches and technology and can help you build a custom-fit solution that integrates with and facilitates your business and operations workflow.

Integrated Robotic Systems

QS doesn’t just build components; we’re experienced developers of end-to-end robotic systems. Following a systems-engineering approach, QS designs, implements, tests, and delivers intelligent ground vehicle and other robotic systems to meet specific applications and requirements. We work with our clients, understand the needs, ascertain whether automation (in one form or another) make sense, and formulate a solution, and make it happen. We have built an extensive in-house technology base that can be applied to jump-start development efforts; but, if that base doesn’t provide what is needed, we start from scratch and build the solution right. Our team can (and has) built out complex ground vehicles systems across the autonomy spectrum, from simple manually teleoperated systems with intuitive interface to full-on autonomous robots plowing through environments, avoiding obstacles, and interdicting targets. We can provide expertise and solutions in areas such as:

  • System requirements definition, concept of operations exploration, and end-to-end modeling and simulation
  • Platform development and engineering, including X-by-wire conversions of existing COTS vehicles, analysis and selection of sensing, safety, or other key subsystem packages
  • Development and implementation of customized, real-time sensing, perception, and control algorithms to meet application needs
  • Architecting and implementation of real-time software infrastructure, including low- and high-level systems for use onboard platform
  • Development of customized, intuitive operator control units (OCUs) specific to the application
  • Adaptive solutions that leverage available communication channels and limitations
  • Buildout of hardware-, software-, and human-in-the-loop fixtures to facilitate development, validation, verification, and tuning
  • End-to-end system integration, testing, deployment, and demonstration

Do you have an intelligent ground vehicle program you could use some help on? Something that could use a smart robotic solution? Teleoperated system that frees up the operator from being there physically? A little help with a perception or control algorithm? Interested in a solution provider with the depth of knowledge and hands-on experience to make your dream a reality? It’s time to call in the experts. QS is here and ready to get to work!

WE WORK THE FUTURE, BUT PLAY OLD-SCHOOL

Our game lounge and hallways are stocked with plenty of unique, fun arcade goodness from the 1930s through the 1990s. They don’t always work, but when they do it’s absolutely Back to the Future. Getting’ it on like Donkey Kong...

A HIDDEN GEM, A SECRET FACT

Salt Springs Brewery in Saline is a favorite amongst our staff, and located in an antique church. Few know that QS actually considered purchasing the building long before it was renovated into the awesome brewpub it is today. We are very happy things turned out the way they did – they make the beer at the Church of Hops, we do the engineering at the School of Code!

MAIZE AND BLUE

QS is a 1999 spin-off of the University of Michigan College of Engineering. Don’t worry, though – there’s no rivalry at Quantum. MSU fans and graduates are welcome, and we mostly try not to put their desks in the basement torture chamber. Mostly.

WE ARE ALWAYS UP FOR A CHALLENGE

QS fielded two outstanding teams at the most recent Saline Celtic Festival Mastodon Challenge! Is there’s any question as to whether we’re hard-core or not, consider this: Bill Meabrod, one of our esteemed coders, did it barefoot using his self-described “Hobbit Feet” on the entire mission.

GETTING IN THE SPIRIT

Each year QS hosts a Halloween costume contest, and few can resist to throw in their hat. At a recent one, CEO Mitch Rohde rocked his Tron costume – showing both his dorkiness and vintage all in one disturbing swoop! End of line.

CTRL + ALT + DELETE

Working out the kinks in vehicle teleoperation can be fun; from a safe distance of course!

BUMP. SET. SPIKE!

Weekly volleyball matches get pretty intense at Quantum Signal. The gym is regulation, the players not-so-much. It’s like the volleyball scene from Top Gun, minus the sand and plus the C++ experience level...

SAVING LIVES. SAVING FRIES.

QS doesn’t just keep soldiers safe – we’re also single-handedly responsible for the return of waffle fries at Dan's Downtown Tavern, one of our favorite lunch spots. Now, about those curly fries...

WE CELEBRATE THE VICTORIES

Sometimes it's a trip to Cedar Point, other times a t-shirt and BBQ lunch, and still other times an engineering-grade sheetcake. Don't worry, we make management eat the non-chocolate parts.

IT'S TIME FOR A DOUBLE BILL...

QS' co-founder, Dr. William J. Williams, is named after a famous figure in Scottish history. He is also a distant cousin of Bob Evans, of restaurant fame!

GOAT, MOOSE, SHEEP – INDIVIDUALS OR FLOCKS – WHATEVER YOU NEED...

QS has built a variety of virtual animals for M&S environments, including a friendly goat with an accurate gate and simulated hoof forces. Yes, we were contracted to do it. Yes, we will tell you the story if you buy us a beer...

A MASTER OF HIS CRAFT...

"What are you milling Kevin?" - "A girlfriend. She'll be perfect."

AND WE SMILE A LOT MORE, TOO!

Back in 1931, this facility housed the finest Saline athletes. Today, it houses the finest Saline MATHLETES!

SEEING OBSTACLES, AND EATING THEM

James Walker, our in-house Robot Whisperer, once emerged victorious from a Wendy’s "Meat Cube" challenge. Hard-core coding, hard core burger consumption – that’s the QS way.

OUR QA THINKS, AND THUS IS...

Dan Rice, QS Quality Assurance Maestro and all around cool dude, majored in philosophy and once wrote a paper on Aristotle's Philosophy of Mind! His tickets are more Socrates than Nietzsche, though.

QS: WHERE ROBOTS ARE LIKE FAMILY

We figure being nice to the 'bots now will help ingratiate us with our future robot overlords.

ALWAYS READY TO RUMBLE

In 2014/2015 QS built and released a little game called "Rustbucket Rumble" – a casual multi-robot mash-em-up craze-fest. It had a fanbase, but didn’t make it big enough to warrant a sequel. Still, we miss those little critters...

SOMETIMES, YOU GET TAGGED

We'll assume this was a comment on the political situation and not our codebase….