A new class of telerobotic applications is making its way into research laboratories, fine arts or science museums, and industrial installations. Virtual laboratories and remote equipment maintenance are examples of these applications, which are built exploiting distributed computing systems and Internet technologies. Distributed computing technologies provide several advantages to telerobotic applications, such as dynamic and multiuser access to remote resources and arbitrary user locations. Nonetheless, building these applications remains a substantial endeavor, especially when performance requirements must be met. The aim of this paper is to investigate how mainstream and advanced features of the CORBA object-oriented middleware can be put to work to meet the requirements of novel telerobotic applications. We show that Real-Time CORBA extensions and asynchronous method invocation of CORBA services can be relied upon to meet performance and functional requirements, thereby enabling teleoperation on local area networks. Furthermore, CORBA services for concurrency control and large-scale data distribution enable geographic-scale access for robot teleprogramming. Limitations in the currently available implementations of the CORBA standard are also discussed, along with their implications. The effectiveness and suitability for telerobotic applications of several CORBA mechanisms are tested first individually and then by means of a software framework exploiting CORBA services and ensuring component-based development, software reuse, low development cost, fully portable real-time and communication support. A comprehensive telerobotic application built based on the framework is described in the paper and evaluated on both local and wide area networks. The application includes a robot manipulator and several sensory subsystems under concurrent access by multiple competing or collaborating operators, one of which is equipped with a multimodal user interface acting as the master device.
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