Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Quanser's New High Definition Haptic Device

HD2 is one of the latest highly engineered robotic manipulators designed and manufactured in Quanser. As a haptic device it enables the human user to interact with virtual environments using programmable force feedback. The motion of the user can be instrumented in 6 degrees of freedom, i.e., three translational motions in Cartesian space and three rotational motions (i.e. roll, pitch and yaw). The device can apply force feedback to the user in 5 degrees of freedom.

The name HD2 stands for “High Definition Haptic Device” which indeed reflects the capabilities of this manipulator. Compared to other commercially available haptic devices on the market, HD2 has a relatively large workspace and very low intervening dynamics. It is also highly backdrivable with negligible inertia and friction. This state-of-the-art device is equipped with high current linear amplifiers which with the use of parallel mechanisms make it possible for the device to provide the user with stiffness coefficients as high as 20,000 N/m. HD2 is finding a wide and still emerging range of industrial, medical, educational, and scientific applications. These include but are not limited to teleoperation tasks where dexterity and precision is required in the control of slave robots such as robotic-assisted surgeries and space and undersea expeditions. Virtual reality training simulators, human rehabilitation systems, and gaming are some other promising applications of HD2.

(Note: HD2 is scheduled for release in March 2009)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Around the Globe with Quanser: An Engineer's Travel Log from Singapore and China

From Singapore to China, I wanted to explore how the Quanser control solutions are positioned in Far East. My first stop was Singapore. After a long flight we landed in the Singapore airport. Joseph from i-Math, Quanser’s distributor in Singapore, welcomed us with his friendly smile and drove us to the hotel. The city was noticeably clean! The day after our arrival, we visited the Nanyang Polytechnic University. The impressive robotics labs, where students design mobile robots for a robot competition is what attracted me the most. Various type of mobile robots form snake robot to humanoid dancer robot, all in one collection.

In the evening we have a training session with the engineers from i-Math introducing Quanser new products and QuaRC. The session was well received and I enjoyed the detailed technical discussion such as "How to facilitate QUARC features to utilize a multi-processor system", which reflected the solid engineer knowledge of the audiences.
We toured National University Singapore, SIM University, Nanyang Technological University and our partner, National Instruments' Singapore branch. Of the new educational tools we demonstrated, the Omni Bundle grabbed lots of attention from both professors and students and I received numerous questions and comments about it.

At the Solar Tracker lab at Nanyang Technological University, we met with Professor Chu Yun Chung, who designed and implemented the solar tracking experiments in collaboration with Quanser engineering team. You could see the posters created by students hanging on the walls to describe how the setup works and demonstrate the results.

After Singapore our next destination was China. We arrived in Shanghai, the city of countless high-rise buildings! We visited Shanghai Jiao Tong and Fudan Universities and enjoyed a traditional Chinese dish with the faculty member. Walking through different labs I saw Quanser SRVO2 and its modules sitting among other lab equipment. Interesting enough, the labs were similar in the look and feel to North American labs.

In the presentation on Quanser new products, audiences were asked if they are willing to try the inverted pendulum and Wiimote challenge, students and professors were exited trying this challenge and surprisingly, most students were so good at it!
On the weekend, we did some sight-seeing - thanks to tour guides Shirley and Kevin, Quanser colleague in China. After a four night stay at Shanghai we flew to Beijing to visit our industrial representative Beijing Masterpiece Technology Co. to discuss the possibility of using QuaRC for cutting-edge industrial real-time control applications.
The 10 days Asian trip was a unique, fantastic and bonding international experience for Quanser team!
Stay tuned for more Quanser news from around the globe.

New projects and new products coming up in 2009

Paul Karam, Quanser's Director of Engineering speaks about what teaching professors and researchers can expect to see from our "super-smart super-innovative" engineering group in 2009:

Magnetic Levitation Experiment

In 2007 I completed my Masters at the University of Toronto. My research was focused on an experiment that was designed and constructed in collaboration with Quanser: a multiple degree-of-freedom (DOF) magnetic levitation platform. The research was initiated by Prof. Manfredi Maggiore (Systems Control Group, University of Toronto) and Dr. Jacob Apkarian (Quanser founder). The goal of the project is to develop a high-precision positioning system using contactless magnetic levitation. Such a system would have application in sensitive, high-precision research and manufacturing such as semiconductor manufacturing. The main advantage of the system is that it uses magnetic forces to levitate the platform, thus avoiding mechanical contact between moving parts, which can eventually lead to costly repairs or dust particles as the parts wear.

In my research, I was able to control the platform along five DOF: horizontal and vertical motion plus two rotations (pitch and roll). The precision of the maglev system is on the order of micrometers, or the width of a human hair. The video below shows a variety of experiments including stabilization of pitch and roll rotations, sinusoidal tracking, and disturbance rejection (robustness). Ultimately, we would like to improve on the existing design and achieve precision on the order of nanometers so that the system would be viable for use in semiconductor manufacturing and other high-precision applications.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Take your real-time controller everywhere!

Introducing Quanser's Wireless Embedded Ethernet Control System (WEECS) - a portable, high-end computer which is powered by QuaRC, Quanser's real-time control software. A compact yet high-performing control hardware makes it possible to remotly control your physical system using Simulink/QUARC models. You can collect data from a remote hardware and tune the parameters on the fly through the wireless connection. This makes WEECS perfect for mobile real-time applications.

I have used WEECS in the haptically-enabled unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) project. In this project we designed and implemented a system to remotely control a UGV while allowing to feel the bumps and forces applied to the steer wheel. WEECS is used as the central controller located on UGV itself, powered up with the portable/rechargeable battery. Using Hautespot RF communication technology we can send the command data wirelessly to WEECS. WEECS applies the speed and steering commands to the UGV using Q4 and two amplifiers. In addition, WEECS runs all the safety watchdogs designed for smooth operation. For example, WEECS would smoothly brake the UGV in case the communication between the haptic interface and UGV is lost or has a big delay or jitter.

In another project which is under development, WEECS is used to control the UGV based on the input received from an UAV. In general, if you want to control a portable real-time platform, WEECS gives you absolute peace of mind plus great flexibility!

UGV is controlled through WEECS and commanded using RF wireless technology.