ERCIM News No.31 - October 1997


by Roberto Gagliardi and Olivia Catoni

The ACTS AC233 project, 'MAintEnance System based on Telepresence for Remote Operators' (MAESTRO), aims at developing telepresence techniques for the maintenance, installation and repairing of mechanical and electromechanical machinery. The MAESTRO solution is intended for the training of complex maintenance/ installation scenarios for remote users, such as SMEs that cannot afford on-site complex training equipment.

The technology developed in the MAESTRO project will enable users to train themselves in maintenance tasks by connecting their (PC-sized) workstations to the Virtual Showroom, where they can inspect complex machinery as well as perform training on maintenance procedures. Deployed technologies are: high-speed networks, video-based telepresence and augmented reality.

The market penetration of complex machinery heavily depends on the capability of producers to provide adequate, continuous support, practical training and product maintenance. In particular, the costs of the practical training and maintenance, which are proportional to the geographic distances between producers and customers, represent a relevant percentage of the global cost. Due to these costs (human resources, trips, communications, shipments etc.) European SMEs often cannot afford to pay for adequate maintenance and training services for their customers. The MAESTRO solution is expected to reduce the above costs by replacing in-house demonstration/training/maintenance procedures with remote ones.

The project addresses the requirements of European industrial manufacturers producing hi-tech, complex machinery. They need to provide customers with technical services for market support, such as machine repair and/or maintenance. The project goals are targeted primarily at those SMEs whose plants, agencies or customers are located in distant geographical sites or countries.

The showroom is made of an extended prototype of the equipment to be maintained (ie, the target equipment), which is customized to allow extensive diagnostics, and a robotic arm holding a video camera. The user is connected to the showroom through an ISDN and/or ATM link. He/she drives the robotic arm by interacting with a low-cost, ergonomic 6 Degree of Freedom joystick, which is produced within the project. The real images of the target equipment are shipped to the user's workstation. The virtual 3D model of the target equipment is superimposed on the real-time video. A marking technique based on LED's is used for this purpose. Multimedia information describing assembling, operating and/or maintenance procedures are associated with 3D representations of the target equipment or parts of it. Speech recognition tools are used to enter commands by voice. This solution is particularly suitable as it enables the user to have hands-free information access.

In order to support intensive multimedia applications combining voice, real-time video and images, network Quality of Service (QoS) techniques are required. The IP-over-ATM and the RSVP (Reservation Protocol) technology are used for this. Since ATM is not yet available at the pilot's site, the integration of ISDN and ATM is currently under consideration. The adoption of emerging standards for multimedia document transmission, in particular MPEG4, is also planned. The project began in September 1996 and will terminate in August 1999.

Please contact:
Roberto Gagliardi - CNUCE-CNR
Tel: +39 50 593259

Olivia Catoni - Consorzio Pisa Ricerche
Tel: +39 50 972341

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