Thursday, October 30, 2008

What skills do controls engineering graduates need to have for industry? Part II

We discussed this topic at the American Control Conference 2008 and found that students need to know basic control techniques as well as the advanced ones. But the technical knowledge is just a part of the big picture. Educators need to nurture students' critical thinking, intuition, teamwork and communication skills - that's what in real-life turns a control engineer into a 'glue' element of the engineering team. Click here for the full story. Opinions from graduates, professors or employers are welcome. Leave a comment!

The future of engineering studies is concerning educators and industry in North America as well as in other parts of the world: watch a webcast with thoughts of William A. Wulf, U.S. National Academy of Engineering President or read the report from the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI).

Learn more about ways we can improve engineering education as academic and industry leaders come together at the 2009 American Society for Engineering Education Conference (ASEE 2009). Stay tuned for information on an upcoming panel session at ASEE 2009. The topic: "Helping Teach Real-World Skills through Hands-on Labs".

Thursday, October 23, 2008

WiiMote Challenge winner at ICMT 2008

This October Sudbury, ON, hosted the 12th International Conference on Mechatronics Technology (ICMT 2008). In our booth the attendees could see and try for themselves some of the solutions Quanser can offer universities to help teach mechatronics courses, and industry to improve the process and professional skills of engineers. People especially liked our WiiMote Challenge - a classical inverted pendulum experiment controlled with popular remote from Nintendo®. The challenge: swing up the pendulum. Those who tried were entered in a draw for an Apple iPod.
And the lucky winner is Kelsey McClanahan from Barrick. Congratulations!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Simulator for Needle Insertion

Ever heard about Veress needle? Probably not - unless you are a surgeon. It is an instrument used at the beginning of a laparoscopic surgery to insufflate the abdominal cavity with gas to create a working and viewing space. The surgeon inserts the needle blindly and cannot see its tip as it penetrates the tissue. As such, experienced surgeons rely on the 'feel' of the tissue as the needle travels through the various layers of the abdominal wall. And what does an inexperienced surgeon rely on? Well - technology. Robotics and haptics allows a trainee to practice the needle insertion procedure in a safe environment with no risk of injury to patient. Quanser's Needle Insertion Simulator has been developed in cooperation with Dr. Okrainec from Toronto's University Health Network and with the help of the Health Technology Exchange (HTX). Tested and tuned using input from 22 surgeons, the simulator currently undergoes validation studies.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Quanser In Flight

Today is an exciting day. We are heading up to the field to do some flight tests with the X6 helicopter and some UGV tests. I’ll be testing the X6 while Rajib tests the UGV (unmanned ground vehicle), then once everything is working (in the next couple of weeks) we can get them to talk to each other and put it all together in a collaborative mission.

The X6 is a fantastic new heli from Draganfly with 6 motors and rotors, on-board GPS and autopilot. We’ve attached a Gumstix pack and a camera to the bottom of the X6, which communicates with the X6 through the QuaRC Vehicle Abstraction Layer (VAL). The VAL basically lets us read the vehicle state and send waypoint commands to the heli or other vehicles like the fixed-wing zagis. We use high-level VAL blocks to program a mission in Simulink (eg. Takeoff, Go to waypoint, Loiter, Land, etc.). Once we compile the mission and download it to the embedded gumstix system, the mission runs and the heli flies by itself! My goal today with the X6 is to make sure it can go through a set of GPS waypoints without any problems. If the simple waypoint test works then I have a mission setup where the waypoints are continually generated in a flat circle pattern, which should make the X6 track a circle in the air. I already tried this algorithm on the fixed-wing zagi UAVs with some success. The zagis have to move much faster than the X6 helicopter, so the X6 should be able to achieve more precise paths. The hovering capabilities of the X6 will come in very handy when we use it to identify ground targets. If we have time today, I would like to use the on-board camera on the X6 to take ground photos of a bright orange tarp and try to identify its position on the ground. All these tests will come together by the end of the month and we will have an amazing demo using two fixed-wing zagis, the X6 helicopter, and the UGV working collaboratively to complete a mission. But I won’t spoil the surprise yet ;) stay tuned!

-Cameron, R&D Engineer, Quanser