Monday, August 31, 2009

NEES Webinar Learning and Teaching with Teleoperated Instructional Shake Tables

We would like to invite you for the NEES Webinar: Learning and Teaching with Teleoperated Instructional Shake Tables on Monday, August 31, 2009 at 9:00-10:00am Pacific/ 10:00-11:00am Mountain/ 11:00am-12:00pm Central/12:00-1:00pm Eastern.

Using Quanser's Shake Table II and utilizing tools developed in cooperation with the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), the University Consortium of Instructional Shake Tables (UCIST) has developed a series of exercises to allow your students to perform remote experimentation using bench-top shake tables. In this one hour NEES webinar you will
  • learn about the exercises and associated lab manuals developed based on these remote experiments
  • see demos of these remote experiments, including operating and viewing live experiments while downloading streaming data and video
  • have an opportunity to discuss the assessment survey, assessment results, and benefits of this approach to learning and teaching.

After this webinar you will be able to use these exercises, shaketable, and assessment tools in your classroom (for freshman undergraduate through graduate levels) to enhance your students' understanding of fundamental concepts in earthquake engineering and structural dynamics. An ever-growing network of universities is being developed to share these instructional shake tables and experiments to benefit future civil engineers, decision-makers and stakeholders. Your students will be able to take advantage of this technology to remotely operate shake tables housed at other universities, offering a wider variety of structural dynamics experiments.

Registration is free and open to all interested parties. To REGISTER for this Webinar, please click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quanser Webinars: Leveraging the Latest Mechatronic Trends to Maximize Teaching Impact and Research Results

Industry demand for mechatronic controls engineers has dramatically grown over the past decade. Today, industry is looking for a new kind of engineer, one with multidisciplinary and systems integration experience. It is becoming increasingly important for students to learn how electrical, mechanical, computer and control systems interact with one another.

In this interactive live webinar, our engineers will show you how Quanser’s new Mechatronic plants can advance both teaching and research. You will find out how industry-relevant technologies such as the 6 DOF Hexapod Motion Platform, 3 DOF Gyroscope, Quarter-Car Active Suspension System, 2 DOF Planar Robot and Industrial Mechatronic Drives can help graduate better students and enhance research.

Register here for one of the following dates/times:

Wednesday, September 9
10.00-10.45 Eastern Standard Time (EST)
14.00-14.45 EST
22.00-22.45 EST

Tuesday, September 15
10.00-10.45 Eastern Standard Time (EST)
14.00-14.45 EST
22.00-22.45 EST

Wednesday, September 23
10.00-10.45 Eastern Standard Time (EST)
14.00-14.45 EST
22.00-22.45 EST

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New QPID Data Acquisition Card Testing Complete

I made a mention back in June that we were working on a new data acquisition card. Well, we have just finished testing with our PCI prototype based on the NI PCI-7831R and we now have the final feature list:
  • 8 16-bit analog inputs with simultaneous sampling
  • 8 16-bit analog outputs with simultaneous sampling

  • 8 24-bit encoder inputs with quadrature decoding, filtering, and simultaneous sampling up to 40 MHz

  • Hardware based encoder velocities

  • 8 PWM outputs with configuration options suitable for general purpose single channel, H-bridges, hobby servos, and 3-phase motor control

  • SPI communications

  • 56 general purpose digital I/O

  • Hardware watchdog

  • External inputs for triggering conversions and interrupts

  • Multiple general purpose timers

  • Many possible synchronization options
We are particularly excited about the hardware based encoder velocity measurements. This gives you a very clean velocity measurement independent of your sample rate and jitter, and without doing any differentiation or filtering. The velocities are nearly instantaneous with no phase lag. This is particularly beneficial at low speeds or for lower encoder resolutions where you may only get a small number of counts per second.

As we finalize the mechanical case for the terminal board and all the software components we will be moving towards production and our official release!

New Quanser Quadrotor UAV

Last week we had some very exciting flight tests as our brand new Quanser Quadrotor UAV underwent some untethered flight tests and passed with flying colours. The design of our quadrotor is unique as the entire mechanism is enclosed within a protective carbon fiber cage (Patent Pending). Quanser's proprietary design ensures safe operation as well as opens the possibilities for a variety of novel applications. When seen for the first time the Quanser Quadrotor appears as a flying sphere. The cage is a crucial feature when you consider the potential consequences of flying multiple vehicles in close formation or in close quarters such as indoor laboratories. The carbon fiber frame provides protection against collision damage and if the helicopter should become unstable and fall to the ground, it will simply roll on its cage keeping the helicopter assembly safe.

The vehicle uses four 10-inch propellers and standard RC motors and speed controllers. The real brains of the vehicle lies in the Quanser Embedded Control Module (QECM), which is comprised of a Quanser HiQ Aero data acquisition card and a QuaRC-powered Gumstix embedded computer. The Quanser HiQ provides high-resolution accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer IMU sensors as well as servo outputs to drive the motors. In addition to the high-resolution IMU sensors, the HiQ has 4 sonar inputs, 2 pressure sensors, a serial GPS input, analog inputs, and a USB camera input. The on-board Gumstix computer runs QuaRC (Quanser's realtime control software), which allows us to rapidly develop and deploy controllers designed in MATLAB Simulink. The controllers run on-board the vehicle itself and runtime sensors measurement, data logging and parameter tuning is supported between the host PC and the target vehicle.

The video below shows one of our recent flight tests. The quadrotor is flown with a human-in-the-loop and a stabilizing controller. The HiQ sensors are used in a stabilizing controller, which is needed to keep the vehicle stable during flight. The entire controller is designed in Simulink including the joystick used to fly the vehicle. As we fly the vehicle, sensor data is streamed back to the host PC so we can monitor everything from vehicle sensors to controller performance. We can tune our filters and controller parameters remotely from the host PC during flight and immediately see the changes in vehicle stability and responsiveness. Finally, when we are confident that our controller is sufficiently robust, we add disturbances to the vehicle and watch that it maintains stability (i.e., it doesn't crash!).

This vehicle was extremely challenging and fun to develop. Look for more on the Quanser Quadrotor in future posts and on our website!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

AIAA Guidance Navigation and Control Conference

Last week the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics held the 2009 Guidance Navigation and Control Conference in Chicago, IL. I attended the conference and was able to see some very interesting presentations on topics including UAV tracking algorithms, multi-vehicle formation design, mission planning tools and strategies, simulation, modeling and system identification. I was also presenting a paper on the development of autonomous UAVs using the Quanser Embedded Control Module (powerd by Gumstix), the Procerus Kestrel autopilot, and fixed-wing Zagi UAVs (Li et al., Multiple UAVs Autonomous Mission Implementation on COTS Autopilots and Experimental Results).

From what I saw, there is no lack of innovation in the theoretical and experimental development of UAVs and related technologies. With the unmanned vehicles being developed here at Quanser, we hope to provide researchers with the tools needed to continue developing and innovating within their field. Look for us at next year's conference!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quanser's New Acquisition - KUKA Robots

It looked like half of the engineering team must have had a birthday a few days ago - they were all smiles, and I thought they were hiding a birthday cake in their R&D area as they all gathered there... Well, it wasn't a birthday cake, but nonetheless a present of some sort. The long awaited KUKA Robots arrived. After unpacking, the rest of us were allowed to pay KUKAs a visit (but don't touch!).
KUKA Robots are a welcome addition to Quanser's Engineering R&D Area

Zuzana: So, what are these toys for, Paul? (Paul is the Engineering Director at Quanser)
Paul: Thanks to the great precision and reliability of the robots, we are hoping to use them for development of teleoperation applications, as well as add them to the line of robotic manipulators we support.

Zuzana: Why did you choose KUKA Robots?
Paul: KUKA is one of the leading manufacturers of industrial robots. The robot we selected is compact yet incredibly precise and fast. It can operate in a tight space, which is extremely useful for the type of applications we are developing. Another key factor was the KUKA Robot Sensor Interface (RSI) that allows for an open architecture interface to an external application like QuaRC, our real-time control software. The common controller interface makes it possible to extend QuaRC's interface to a complete line of KUKA Robots. Working closely with KUKA engineers, we were able to rapidly interface our new robot to QuaRC to enable more advanced research in robotics, control and mechatronics.

Stay tuned for more news from our engineers on Quanser's KUKA robot projects. Subscribe to our RSS for automatic updates.

Quanser at NI-Week 2009

Anyone who has been to NIWeek before knows what a great conference it is to attend. Lots of new and cool products, great people from academia as well as industry, plus an energetic atmosphere, make this conference a great experience for all attendees.

As a National Instruments partner, Quanser was of course there to show its latest developments in partnership with NI and their software and hardware. We had brought quite a few devices for teaching and research and the demos were getting a lot of attention, especially our Quanser NI Engineering Trainers (QNETs), modular Rotary Experiments and Active Suspension. A lot of people were amazed that the experiments come with a full comprehensive curriculum with a wide range of pre-lab and in-lab exercises that could accompany the hardware throughout an entire semester course. The professors we talked to, agreed that receiving such curriculum with the hardware saves them a lot of time and hassle that they have to put in before the start of each semester to design and write-up a related curriculum.

People had a lot of fun with our two inverted pendulums (SRV-02 ROTPEN and QNET ROT-PEN) as everyone tried to to find out how much disturbance they could handle before falling down! Even if they did fall down, they would swing back up automatically thanks to the energy-based swing up controller that was designed and implemented in LabVIEW. Seems that our YouTube Channel is doing a great job for us - most people who saw the Active Suspension demo went "...ooh yea, this is the one I was on YouTube!"

Another Quanser Active Suspension system was shown in one of NI booths, controlled with LabVIEW and the CompactRIO. It wasn't a surprise to see Quanser experiments in other booths as well. For example in the LabVIEW Zone, two Quanser Linear Inverted Pendulum systems were demonstrated, controlled in real-time with LabVIEW and simulated in a virtual graphical environment at the same time.

The exhibition hall was not the only place that had action going on. Technical sessions in a variety of topics such as Military and Aerospace, Robotics and Vision were happening all day long in addition to a keynote speech given every morning in one of which NI announced the release of LabVIEW 2009 that is loaded with new features and built-in functionalities. We at Quanser are excited to try some of these new features in our developments of LabVIEW-based controllers that come with our hardware and curriculum. A few of these features include the automatic multi-threading of for loops, enhanced icon editor and the LabVIEW Mathscript RT Module. We are also marking our calendars from now for next year's NIWeek and so should you. Remember to visit NI's website for a collection of NIWeek09 videos, product releases and more.


The new QNET Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Trainer is an aerospace plant that enables students to learn about basic flight dynamics and control. The front end of the VTOL body is fitted with a rotor actuator that has a thrust of approximately 32 g at 1.5 A. The body is anchored to an encoder shaft from where the pitch position can be measured. On the back end of the body, an adjustable counter-weight enables the user to vary the amount of thrust needed to attain a certain desired position.

The VTOL curriculum includes modeling, system identification, model validation, and control design exercises. A sample of the curriculum is pictured below. The goal is to control the pitch position of the VTOL. To do this, students must first obtain a model. This can be done manually by performing a few experiments and looking at the equation of motion. It can also be obtained using system identification tools such as the LabVIEW System Identification Toolkit. Once validated, the model can be used to design the flight control system. This involves designing a PI current controller for the rotor actuator and an outer PID feedback system to control the position (i.e. cascade controller).

As with other QNETs, the VTOL connects to the NI ELVIS II system (also compatible with ELVIS I) and runs with the LabVIEW software. VIs accompanying the curriculum are supplied with the system. The VTOL Flight Control VI is shown below.

The QNET-014 VTOL Trainer is available for purchase on the NI website.

Phantom devices in QUARC

QuaRC is expanding itself to support more third-party hardware every day to make it possible for its users to access a variety of hardware in their designs. As a step in this process, QUARC is going to support Phantom haptic devices. Phantom devices are categorized into 4 main types: Omni, Desktop, Premium A, and Premium 6 DOF. The first 3 types have 6 degreees of freedom sensing and 3 degrees of freedom actuation, and the Premium 6 DOF has 6 degrees of freedom sensing and actuation.

A block is going to be added to the QUARC library which is in charge of working with these devices. This block reads data from the device, and sends user commands to it. User can choose the type of inputs and outputs of the device from the block. For example, it is possible to read raw encoder values, position, or joint and gimbal angels of the device, so user can choose the most suitable format. The same flexibility is provided for the actuation commands, and they can be either force or torque for each joint separately, or the force and torque in Cartesian space.

Multiple devices can be controlled by a single model using a phantom block per device. Moreover, QUARC provides the option to limit the maximum velocity of the device's arm to ensure safty. User can choose to activate this option and change the maximum acceptable value for the velocity. Another safety feature is that the block saturates the force commands to the device based on its spec.