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Robot design challenge

Design is an important element running right through the new four-year course for undergraduates and the Design Group had an additional challenge this year when they were asked to come up with a new design project for the second year students.

'We wanted a project that had a practical end product based on a mechatronic system, i.e. combining elements from mechanical, electrical engineering and software development. It also had to be feasible for students after only one year of their course,' says Ken Wallace. 'We came up with the idea of basing the project on an Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV). Many factories now are filled with these silently moving machines rather than with people to move parts and assemblies from one work cell to another.'

The students are divided into teams of six, and they have to devise a mobile robot vehicle which will come out of a parking bay, follow a set route to a pallet which it picks up and follows another line to an area (or work cell) where the pallet is set down. These tasks emulate those carried out by the automated guided vehicles frequently used in modem manufacturing plant.

An element of competition is introduced, so that the projects are judged in terms of which is fastest, lightest, least costly and most reliable.

The equipment supplied for the project includes a microprocessor system, including a microcontroller board, so that commands can be written in high-level language then made to communicate with existing low-level software. A prototyping board is also provided with a standard bus communicating system. The electrical and software design teams then have to interface between the sensors and the microprocessors. The mechanical design team then produce something to hang it all on and they are provided with small pneumatic cylinders for lowering and raising the pick-up device. Extra marks are given for ease of dismantling the system to enable the next group to start, which provides an introduction to recycling, which now plays a very important part in any design concept.

With 300 students taking part, the development has posed a few management problems for the course team and logistics have dominated the planning of the project! It will certainly provide a challenge for second year students.

number 1, summer '93 back | contents | previous | next