Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Tradeshow Sneak Peak

People meet us at tradeshows all around the world in a nicely set up booth, but before we get there, there's a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes. No wonder that although this year's ACC and ASEE Conferences are few weeks ahead, we are already hard at work getting ready. And that means not only testing all the equipment - but also testing the tradeshow.

So we invited all the company to "attend" ACC and ASEE. And no need to travel, as everything was set up in Quanser's office. Another great opportunity to share knowledge between our engineers, technicians, customer service, academic advisors and all other people in the company. Have a little sneak peak before everything's packed and shipped - and come for more to the booth #13/14 at ACC and 525 at ASEE!

A lot of interest around Active Suspension

Pasha explains how the 3 DOF Gyroscope works

Rotary SRV02 stations are Quanser's staples

Everything works, we
are good to go!

Robobusiness, Discovery and World Haptics Conference

I recently had the opportunity to represent Quanser and demonstrate a few of our leading edge Haptic Devices at three major conferences: World Haptics Conference, Robobusiness, and Discovery.

World Haptics Conference in Salt Lake City

Back in March, this 3 day conference hosted around 300 people and drew in students, researchers and industry experts from all over the world. Attendees were drawn in and quite impressed by our guided needle insertion HD2 demo. People commented on the large workspace and low intervening dynamics. They were also taken aback by the negligible inertia and low friction characteristics of the highly back-drivable HD2.

Haptics Professors from University of Ottawa, Georgia Institute of Technology, Naval Postgraduate School and other reputable institutions expressed interest in collaborating with Quanser on many fronts. Research initiatives and opportunities were uncovered in a diverse range of applications from excavation to eye surgery training. In speaking with individuals from leading medical device manufacturers, I learned about some of the challenges doctors face in performing surgery today. Haptic devices can not only be used for training future surgeons, saving them the mess and high costs of using cadavers, but can also be used to guide doctors in to complex surgical procedures. I learned that while speaking with people in the medical arena, it’s important not to get stuck using Engineering lingo like ‘haptics’. When discussing surgical trainers, Doctors may not be familiar with the word Haptics, instead, it is sometimes more effective to speak of muscle memory.

The Media Labs and RoboBusiness Conference in Boston
Patrick and I were at The Media Labs last month! Yes, we saw the MIT Lab which is focusing on “human adaptability”–work ranging from initiatives to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression, to sociable robots that can monitor the health of children or the elderly, to the development of smart prostheses that can mimic–or even exceed–the capabilities of our biological limbs. We also saw the room in which Guitar Hero was first invented!

The Robobusiness conference was yet another eye opening and action-packed experience. Once again, our Telepresence system drew people in from every direction. Although we had quite a few reporters from different technology press come by our booth, the majority of the attendees included researchers and industry robotic experts. A technology leader from Motoman, who later delivered a talk on the 15 DOF Motoman SDA10, came by our booth and showed interest in visiting our facility to learn more about our Telepresence system. Other conference attendees included Barrett Technology, ABB, and iRobot. People were also very interested in learning more about our UAV/UGV platforms, namely, the Hi-Q board and QuaRC, our rapid control prototyping software.

Taking into consideration Baby Boomer demographic trends and rising medical costs, whether it be Telepresence Systems or Rehab devices, the market potential for Medical Robotic solutions is enormous. The key for Quanser will be to continue our tradition of providing revolutionary robotic solutions to University Researchers and Industry Innovators.

Discovery Conference in Toronto

A few weeks ago, I attended the Discovery conference in downtown Toronto. Almost 300 exhibitors and a few thousand attendees were on site at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on May 11th and 12th, providing a rare glimpse into the province’s future innovation economy.

At our booth, Mahyar, Pasha and I were presenting the HD2 guided needle insertion demo to an engaged and captivated crowd. Activity at our booth really picked up on the morning of the 12th and carried on throughout the rest of the day. Although many of the visitors were learning about Quanser’s innovate capabilities for the first time, it was humbling to meet so many top Canadian researchers and industry leaders who were either familiar or had worked with us in the past.

In addition to our booth, the Quanser ShakeTable I-40 could be found at the Let’s Talk Science booth. Let’s Talk Science is a Canadian non-profit organization committed to building youth interest and engagement in science, engineering and technology. This organization widely promotes the importance of science literacy in the development of an innovation culture and they are engaging science, engineering and technology professionals as science outreach volunteers and mobilizing them in communities and schools. In the midst of a global recession, governments are beginning to realize the importance of investing in our children’s futures. In the past few months, we are noticing a major shift in government resource allocation towards upplifting K-12 (Kindergarten to Grade 12) initiatives. Moving forward, I look forward to volunteering with LTS to put together outreach competitions for K-12 schools in the Greater Toronto Area. Our earthquake shaketables are currently being used by many Universities such as Berkeley and University of Southern California for similar outreach programs.

We also had the chance to meet with some of the people from the business development team of a local E-Learning company, DeckChair Learning Systems. They are an online education company that helps students learn better and achieve more. They’ve developed a unique application that identifies gaps in students learning, automatically creates individualized learning experiences for them, and measures their achievement. They help educators use learning technologies to improve student success, improve teaching, and save costs by offering an array of psychologist proven, adaptive learning technologies. Given our presence in over 2000 academic institutions and experience in providing pedagogical course curriculum, there may be some interesting collaborative opportunities left to explore with similar e-learning companies.

In addition to the opportunities uncovered, these 3 conferences have given us a clearer insight into the future of robotics in the arenas of engineering education, medicine and defense. Quanser’s strength and presence in the field of Mechatronics comes at a time when the world needs it the most. Left winded by the recession, the world is desperately searching for innovative leadership. Serving the controls and mechatronics community for more than 20 years, we find ourselves uniquely positioned at the hub of academia, research and industry, bringing tomorrow’s ideas, today.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why is it important to teach mechatronic approach

Engineers from all disciplines can benefit from cross-disciplinary expertise. From automotive to aerospace, we see engineers working on complex mechatronics systems alongside mechanical and electrical engineers. Educators can captivate engineering students with the new technology and hands-on instructional labs while preparing them to solve industry-relevant problems that require multi-disciplinary skills.

Watch this video to learn why Jacob Apkarian, Quanser's Founder, Chairman and CTO believes mechatronic principles are critical to engineering education in 21st century and how mechatronics apply to systems design.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

QUARC: Dynamic Reconfiguration Toolbox

One of the advanced features of QuaRC lies in its Dynamic Reconfiguration Toolbox. Dynamic Reconfiguration (DR) refers to dynamically switching QUARC models on the target machine (e.g., a Windows or QNX PC, or a Gumstix Verdex board). In other words, a QUARC model, while running, may be dynamically replaced with another running model - within a single sampling interval!

The QUARC dynamic reconfiguration capability provides, for example, a mission reconfiguration mechanism for Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs). On top of enabling the switching between several automatic controllers (for normal operation modes of a robot or an UAV), the QUARC DR can also be used for emergency situations (e.g. when a robot or an UAV going unstable) to switch to an emergency controller (e.g. implementing a manual override) and attempt a recovery.

Dynamic reconfiguration of QUARC models can be performed using either a MATLAB command or a QUARC supervisory model running in the background. Also while only models running on the same target can be switched, it is possible to perform the switch from a remote host machine. For example, a QUARC supervisory model, either running on the QUARC Host or the QuaRC Target machine, can monitor some key state variables and determine whether and when to trigger the switch.

Additionally, the QuaRC Dynamic Reconfiguration toolbox also provides for transferring data (e.g., state variables, elapsed relative time) from the QuaRC model being switched-out to the incoming QUARC model being switched-in, at the exact time of the switch (i.e., at the exact sampling instant when the switch occurs). As the actual plant can only be accessed by one controller at a time, this data transition mechanism is essential when dynamically switching QuaRC controllers in order to ensure, for example, the stability of the plant being controlled. Typically, the DR data transition is used to achieve continuity of the states between the switched-out and the switched-in controllers as well as proper initial conditions for the switched-in QuaRC model.

As an illustration, the QuaRC Dynamic Reconfiguration blocks were successfully demonstrated to run the Quanser SRV02-based self-erecting single inverted pendulum experiment. In this setup, a first QuaRC model was in charge of swinging up the single pendulum while a second model implemented a state-feedback controller to balance the pendulum once inverted. A third and supervisory QUARC model was also running and monitoring the SRV02 pendulum angle in order to automatically decide which one of the two models should run (depending on whether the pendulum needs to be swung up or balanced) and trigger the corresponding switch dynamically. In this example, the transferred data included the pendulum angle which had to be passed from the swing-up model to the balancing controller and vice-versa, to ensure correct initial conditions and pendulum stability.

To Introduce QUARC's dynamic reconfiguration feature and help users to quickly get strated, the latest QUARC version 1.2 comes with an interactive and fully documented Dynamic Reconfiguration demonstration. Try it - request a 30 day QuaRC demo and let me know what you think.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How does it feel to drive Quanser UGV?

Today I would like to introduce another state-of-the-art product in the field of robotics and teleoperation :

Quanser Haptically Enabled UGV

After a couple of years of hard work and research this is a second generation of Quanser unmanned ground vehicles. On this UGV, our engineers have enabled the remote operator to make use of on-board GPS, camera, and soon-to-be installed robotic arms. Operated remotely or over a semi/fully autonomous mode, these robotic arms can fulfill remote tasks where the haptic force feedback will provide the user with precision and dexterity. The kinesthetic feeling of lateral and vertical motions of the vehicle can also be fed back to the user for an immersive driving. This is where Quanser ties human and machine together to seek out vast environments and manipulate remote objects as if they are in our own hands. In the existence of our user friendly and highly capable real time software, QuaRC, one can easily program the UGV for a wide variety of applications ranging from teleoperative tasks to fully autonomous systems. This system is also capable of communicating with other Quanser UGVs and UAVs.

Among the general keywords and characteristics of this platform I can mainly name of communication and control speed, optimal design for battery durability, and robustness of the system in terms of control, safety and communication. Several layers of safety measures are defined and implemented by our experienced engineers while simplicity has been considered as an important factor.

After passing some major tests, the system is to undergo a series of experimental drives in advance of some major events and demos in close future.

Friday, May 1, 2009

SAE Congress 2009

I attended the SAE Congress in Detroit with National Instruments last week and it surprised me how many members from academia were present. My initial impression was that this conference would be mostly industrial but I met quite a few professors and students on the floor.

The main theme of the conference was focusing on R&D to make cars more environmentally friendly. Some of those topics included fuel cells, infract structure for electric cars, ethanol fuel, and hybrid cars. At the opening ceremony, both the Governor of Michigan and the Governor of California (yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger) gave greats talks about “going green” and what is currently being done in Michigan to get out of this current economic turmoil. According to the Governor of Michigan, the state of Michigan does more R&D for the automotive industry then all the states, Mexico, and Canada combined!

At the National Instruments booth, we were running the Quanser Active Suspension system using the Compact RIO and LabVIEW software. This demonstrated active suspension technology as well as the power of LabVIEW and cRIO hardware.

Javier Gutierrez from NI posted a video of the device in action