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In this paper, we present the user interface and the system architecture of an Internet-based telelaboratory, which allows researchers and students to remotely control and program two educational online robots. In fact, the challenge has been to demonstrate that remote programming combined with an advanced multimedia user interface for remote control is very suitable, flexible, and profitable for the design of a telelaboratory. The user interface has been designed by using techniques based on augmented reality and nonimmersive virtual reality, which enhance the way operators get/put information from/to the robotic scenario. Moreover, the user interface provides the possibility of letting the operator manipulate the remote environment by using multiple ways of interaction (i.e., from the simplification of the natural language to low-level remote programming). In fact, the paper focuses on the lowest level of interaction between the operator and the robot, which is remote programming. As explained in the paper, the system architecture permits any external program (i.e., remote experiment, speech-recognition module, etc.) to have access to almost every feature of the telelaboratory (e.g., cameras, object recognition, robot control, etc.). The system validation was performed by letting 40 Ph.D. students within the "European Robotics Research Network Summer School on Internet and Online Robots for Telemanipulation" workshop (Benica`ssim, Spain, 2003) program several telemanipulation experiments with the telelaboratory. Some of these experiments are shown and explained in detail. Finally, the paper focuses on the analysis of the network performance for the proposed architecture (i.e., time delay). In fact, several configurations are tested through various networking protocols (i.e., Remote Method Invocation, Transmission Control Protocol/IP, User Datagram Protocol/IP). Results show the real possibilities offered by these remote-programming techniques, in order to design experiments intended to be performed from both home and the campus.
Date of Publication: Dec. 2005