Monday, April 6, 2009

Mechatronics Supports Robotics

Quanser's new 2 DOF Planar Robot is a primary example of a mechatronics system. How so you ask? As a graduate of University of Waterloo’s first mechatronics engineering class, hopefully I can shed some light. Let's look at the various disciplines considered to be part of mechatronics and see how they pertain to this particular product.

Mechanical: The system was designed to be mechanically robust. It uses heavy duty machined parts and zero-backlash harmonic drives. In order to make the robot slightly more interactive, a pen mechanism was added as an end-effector allowing the students see the path the robot has taken.

The robot's two degrees of freedom are driven by DC motors (coupled with aforementioned harmonic drives). Although not the focus of this particular experiment, electric motors are an integral part of most mechatronic systems. Also, the pen mechanism on the end-effector is actuated using a 12VDC solenoid.

Using position feedback from high resolution optical encoders, the system is controlled using Quanser's real-time control software, QuaRC. The system has built-in software watchdogs that allow students to develop controllers without posing the risk of damaging the mechanism in cases of instability.

When tied all together, this mechatronics system allows a series of robotic fundamentals to be taught in a safe, effective manner. These fundamentals include determining forward and inverse kinematics, dynamic properties of the system and developing a calibration routine. Any senior undergraduate or graduate students will certainly benefit from taking principles taught in class and applying them to a real, physical, interactive system.

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