Friday, December 07, 2007

Robotics Project

This semester has been great. I've been able to take classes that I really enjoy. Since I'm a glutton for punishment the classes I want to take are also very time consuming. My two favorites this semester are called Advanced Controls and Intro to Robotics. They are extremely interesting. Controls deals with properly controlling systems to do what we want, like controlling a motor to move a lever to make the lever get there when you want and as accurately as you want. Another example of a control system is the cruise control in your car. Robotics deals with the math of making a robot go exactly where you want it to. Its a hard problem because you have to make all the individual joint angles add up just right to put the gripper where you want it.

The final project in that class deals with just this problem. The graph below show the trajectory of the end effector. That is, if you were sitting in a chair that the robot was holding in its hand, the blue line on the graph would be like a roller coaster track that you would be riding on. The red line shows the path of a block that we want to pick up with the robot.To make the robot do what we want, we split that blue line into 235 pieces and we have to calculate the joint angles at each of those individual points. Neat, huh. You see, that's why want to make a computer do the math. It would take us days to calculate all those numbers.
Here's a picture of the robot that this program is for. Its called a Puma 560. This picture is from a research lab at Newcastle University. These are really common in industry. Actually, they are becoming obsolete in favor of robots that have much more sophisticated control systems.

Next semester I will be taking the follow on course for Intro to Robotics. It's called Intro to Robotic Control. I know that sounds like almost the same thing, but its not. It will take some of the elements from this class and the controls class I'm also in and build on them. For instance, we will learn force control. Here's an example: Imagine you want the robot to write on the chalk board. You have to be able to control the position of the chalk very precisely while at the same time making sure the robot is putting enough pressure on the chalkboard to make marks. What a trip. Unfortunately the real fun of robotics happens at the graduate level. I'll be back to school sometime.


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