Improving Robot-Environment Interaction (EN578-170003/21)

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Tender Notice


Publishing status


Publication date
Amendment date
Date closing
2019/01/14 14:00 Eastern Standard Time (EST)


Reference number
Solicitation number
Region of opportunity
Region of delivery
Notice type
Request for Proposal (RFP)
Trade agreement
  • None
Tendering procedure
Solely Canadian content
Procurement entity
Public Works and Government Services Canada
End user entity
Public Works and Government Services Canada

Contact Information

Contact name
Secrétariat de Solutions Innovatrices Canada / Innovative Solutions Canada Secretariat
Contact email
Contact address
10 Wellington
Gatineau  QC
K1A 0S5

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December 28, 2018

Attachment 1 has been added. The document contains questions and answers related to the Call for Proposals.


This Challenge Notice is issued under the Innovative Solutions Canada Program Call for Proposals 002 (EN578-170003/C).

Please refer to the Solicitation Documents which contain the process for submitting a proposal.

Steps to apply:

Step 1: read this challenge

Step 2: read the Call for Proposals

Step 3: propose your solution

CHALLENGE TITLE: Improving Robot-Environment Interaction

CHALLENGE SPONSOR: National Research Council (NRC)



Multiple contracts could result from this Challenge.

The maximum funding available for any Phase 1 Contract resulting from this Challenge is $150,000.00 CAD (plus tax) including shipping, travel and living expenses, as applicable, for up to 6 months.

The maximum funding available for any Phase 2 Contract resulting from this Challenge is $700,000.00 CAD (plus tax) including shipping, travel and living expenses, as applicable, for up to 2 years. Only eligible businesses that have completed Phase 1 could be considered for Phase 2.

This disclosure is made in good faith and does not commit Canada to contract for the total approximate funding.

TRAVEL:  For Phase 1 it is anticipated that two meetings will require the successful bidder(s) to travel to the location identified below:

Kick-off meeting: Montreal, Quebec

Final Review Meeting: Montreal, Quebec

All other communication should occur via phone or videoconference.

Problem Summary Statement

This challenge seeks innovations that will improve robot interactions with either humans or changing environments.

Problem Statement

NRC does applied research and development in the field of human-machine interaction applied to human-robot collaborative tasks in manufacturing as well as to autonomous mobile systems. In this context, the application of the proper force by a robot is problematic. A robot interacting with objects or a human part of its environment through physical contact must apply appropriate forces and torques and must also adapt them to conditions that change with time, in a safe and stable manner. For example, a robot breaking an egg must adjust its behaviour so as not to damage the egg inside. Similarly, a robot applying a force on a human arm must be able to maintain this force while accommodating any unplanned movement. This challenge is at the core of considerable research in robotics and constitutes the state-of-the-art, whether for industrial applications or human-machine interaction.

While control algorithms exist to address this issue, their implementation onto a physical system requires that the mechanical portion of the system (joints and links) be as free from unwanted effects as possible. These effects can severely limit the performance and safety of the system as they introduce undesirable elements, thereby introducing additional considerations and complexity at the design and implementation stages. This challenge therefore seeks a system allowing a robot to apply adequate forces and torques when interacting with a human or an environment with changing conditions.

Desired outcomes and Considerations

The following elements constitute an overview of the challenge solution’s desired characteristics.

Essential Outcomes

Proposed solutions must:

  • Allow an articulated mechanical structure having at least 3 degrees of freedom to apply a contact and a torque on a surface, to adapt this contact according to changes in surface conditions, and to execute movements while maintaining the specified contact.
  • Minimize effects attributed to elasticity (< 1mm deflections at the effector, > 20Hz vibrations), friction, backlash and other unwanted play in the components, through an innovative design. Minimization of these effects must come from the system’s mechanics. In the case where the solution involves feedback control, performance must be demonstrated using commercially available components (Essential).
  • Be available in a compact form so as to easily actuate a robotic rotational joint. As a general guideline a length/width/depth ratio of «1» would be appropriate. For example, a first design could have dimensions of 10cmX10cmX10cm.
  • Allow for its integration with external controllers, whether experimental or commercial, by providing a standard interface (e.g. through an electronic servo drive).

Additional Outcomes

Proposed solutions should:

  • Be easily scalable, thus allowing force or torque generation over various ranges according to the application at hand. 3 levels of nominal output torques are suggested, namely:
  • 2Nm
  • 10Nm
  • 30Nm
  • Be robust to abrupt changes in force/torque, e.g. resulting from impacts at a non-negligible speed (> 0.1 m/s) or from emergency stops.

Background and Context

Part of the NRC Aerospace Research Centre, the Automation and Robotics Group of the Aerospace Manufacturing Technology Centre performs applied research and development in the field of human-machine interaction applied to human-robot collaborative tasks in manufacturing as well as to autonomous mobile systems. In both these domains, it is desirable to perform force control which includes feedback to the operator as well as controlling system dynamics for stability/performance (e.g. by minimizing vibrations) and in order to provide additional feedback from the environment (e.g. proximity to obstacles using force fields).

While several approaches are currently being investigated, their implementation in a physical setup is to a great extent limited by the performance of the actuators involved. In order to provide the necessary torque profiles in a compact and light form factor suitable for use in collaborative robots or robots with a high payload/weight ratio, harmonic drives are typically used and are considered state-of-the industry in this respect. However, the trade-off in generating high torque ratios in a compact format results in elastic, vibrations and friction effects that compromises overall system and introducing additional dynamics that are notoriously difficult to address at the control stage. Furthermore, applications involving contact with the environment (including humans) and repeated safety stops have been reported to be detrimental to harmonic drives, negatively impacting their performance and damaging them in the long run. While good results can be obtained when the system is in free motion, performing tasks while in contact with the environment has to be achieved in a well-known environment, under performance-limiting conditions such as low-speed. A solution combining high-torque ratio in a compact format without the trade-off effects mentioned above would allow a broader performance envelope, increasing the system’s range of forces that can be applied and rendered back to the user thus making the system more versatile and adaptable.


All enquiries must be submitted in writing to no later than ten calendar days before the Challenge Notice closing date. Enquiries received after that time may not be answered.

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FileAmendment numberLanguageUnique Download Event (English page)Date added
attachment_1_-_question_and_answer_1_-_en578-17003-21.pdfNot availableEnglish- 2018-12-28
piece_jointe_1_-_questions_et_reponse_1_-_en578-17003-21.pdfNot availableFrench- 2018-12-28