Sunday, January 31, 2010

High Definition Haptics in Manitoba

In mid-January, Amin – one of our engineers – and I had a chance to visit the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. We brought with us the High Definition Haptic Device, HD^2 (pronounced “H. D. Squared”) and demonstrated it to a group of physicians, researchers, and students in a seminar put on by the Faculties of Medicine and Engineering and the local IEEE Chapter. Our hosts, Drs. Bertram Unger and Nariman Sepehri, have been conducting research in virtual surgery and tele-operation.

We showed how the HD^2 could be used as a trainer for surgical procedures, as a rehabilitation device for stroke patients, or as a manipulator for robots. After the talk, we let the group test out the device. There was a only a slight gross-out factor with the virtual needle insertion demo, especially as one could feel how a needle passed through different layers of “meat” (Amin’s reference to tissue). Otherwise, most of those who tried out the HD^2 thought it was a very new sensation and experience.

In putting together the demonstration, one of the things that boggles me is the relative ease in developing haptic controllers through QUARC. While our Amin is extremely talented, it took him about half a day to create a stroke rehabilitation program – something that would have previously taken months with other software. The visualization feature he used is now part of QUARC 2.0

Here's a video of one of the demos:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Focus on Innovation: A Peek into Quanser's Gadget Room

One of many challenges engineering educators face is the speed with which technology evolves. To prepare students for the real world, professors need to teach them fundamentals as well as expose them to the hottest technology. That’s why Quanser's engineers work hard on enhancing our staple products, such as linear and rotary motion experiments, as well as bringing new innovative plants to engineering labs.

In 2009 we introduced several new systems – a more compact and portable
Shake Table I-40, an innovative HD^2 haptic device, and the very popular Mechatronic Controls Collection.

The year 2010 is going to be equally exciting – watch for new solutions that are more compact and energy-efficient, and give you more flexibility, while saving time and money. Let’s have a peek into the engineering “gadget room”:

Control Design Software: The Engine for Engineering Innovations

The heart of all Quanser systems is QUARC, our real-time control software. Version 2.0 released in December 2009 brings many unique features that we've mentioned on our blog. The engineers are now adding even more great features and capabilities, such as support of Windows 7, new features in the visualization and much more for release in April. In the meantime, take QUARC for a test drive with our virtual plant. Request a free demo today.

QUARC is also the heart of a Challenging Environment Assessment Laboratory (CEAL) simulator, one of the most advanced rehabilitation research facilities in the world. Our engineers are gearing up for final stages of the project, a collaboration with the Toronto Rehab Institute.

The CEAL facilities consist of a large, one-of-a-kind, 6-degree of freedom, hydraulic motion platform.

Powerful Amplifier

A lot of new developments are happening in the Hardware-In-The-Loop Accessories department: in spring watch for a more compact and portable solution to power amplification: VoltPAQ. This new generation of power amplifiers can be used to drive multiple actuators and will be especially useful for multi-DOF experiments, such as a 3 DOF Helicopter.

Prevailing DAQ

In February watch for the release of QPID, a new generation of PCI and PCIe data acquisition boards, that bring more functionality and features, combined with better real-time performance. Please note the Q8 H.I.L. board will be phased out as this more powerful solution comes in.

QPID, Quanser's new data acquisition board

Portable DAQ

Slated for release in spring is yet another novel data acquisition board - the Q8-USB. With this portable technology you can interface to hardware conveniently through a USB connection while maintaining a hard real-time performance. Where the full functionality of Q8-USB is not needed, customers have the flexibility to choose a Q2-USB board that we are currently developing.

USB Driven

USB connectivity will be also a part of the improvement of some existing systems: HD^2 haptic device and the Hexapod, the 6 DOF motion platform from Mechatronic Controls Collection will soon be USB driven. For the Hexapod we will also be upgrading its power capabilities, making it move faster, with more force.

Unmanned Systems and Robots

The big focus in 2010 will be on unmanned systems and robotics. We have already introduced the Unmanned Vehicle Systems Lab to perform multi-vehicle missions with unmanned aerial and ground vehicles indoors. This year we are enhancing the multi-vehicle capabilities, like flying three Qballs together.

Quanser's Unmanned Ground Vehicle was developed for outdoor UVS research. The remotely controlled golf cart-based system can be integrated with other unmanned vehicles for more complex collaborative control.

Quanser's remotly controlled UGV for research of unmanned systems

In the area of robotics we plan to expand the collection of robots with open architecture control. The popular high-performance Denso robots will soon have real-time control capabilities through QUARC, joining other robots like KUKA, CRS, and Mitsubishi that QUARC can work with.

Despite the long list, we still haven't captured everything. So stay tuned for more news about what we are engineering in our "gadget room”.

Quality in Motion: Partnering with MICROMO for Better Devices

Quanser’s innovative systems for teaching and research rely on high-end parts and components – some developed by Quanser, some purchased from other suppliers. One of the key components in most of our systems are the motors themselves as they are the driving force inside a mechatronic system. To meet high quality standards our customers trust and expect, such as motor low inertia, low friction and high torque, we turned to MICROMO. Their range of micro motors allows us to use them in a standard SRV02 rotary motion servo plant, as well in high-end systems, such as HD^2 haptic device.

Working on many OEM and collaborative research projects that require customized solutions, Quanser engineers can only benefit from getting to know MICROMO better. The MICROMO team feels the same and so they invited Paul Gilbert, our CEO and me to Clearwater, FL to MICROMO’s Annual Sales Meeting in December 2009. A great opportunity for both companies to learn how we at Quanser use MICROMO motors, what our capabilities are, and to identify areas where we can combine our expertise to serve our customers' needs better.

During our presentation to MICROMO's team of U.S.-based applications engineers we introduced Quanser in general, and focused on Quanser engineering - what kind of stuff with do and how we apply the mechatronic approach in design. We also brought four typical Quanser training systems with us – MICROMO engineers could try the new version 2.0 of QUARC, our rapid control prototyping software, test the SRV02 servo plants, and experience how quickly it is possible to design their own control experiment or control system. They really enjoyed it, being very hands-on and tech-savvy. The bigger systems, such as haptic and unmanned systems lab were also demonstrated, so MICROMO got a good sense of who we are and what we can do.

For both our companies, this visit was just a first step in building a more efficient partnership. We have plans to grow and strengthen our collaboration to bring top quality, innovative solutions for teaching, research and industrial use - one of the big goals we have for 2010.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

QUARC: Virtual Plant Demo - SRV02 Self-Erecting Inverted Pendulum

True to Quanser’s learning-by-doing philosophy, the QUARC built-in demonstrations, as previously described in our QUARC: Learning By Doing post, have now been augmented in QUARC 2.0.

Amongst other added features, QUARC 2.0 includes a demonstration of Quanser’s first Virtual Plant (VP), consisting of a realistic visual and dynamic representation of Quanser’s actual SRV02 Self-Erecting Inverted Pendulum Control Challenge system. This built-in VP example simulates the dynamics and control of the corresponding Quanser actual plant and animates the experiment in full 3D realism in real-time. As usual with Quanser’s experiments, the closed-loop controller is fully open-architecture and implemented in Simulink, with all the system parameters being accessible and tunable.

Request a free demo license now. Here's what you can expect - watch this video and read on!
(video also available on YouTube)
Starting the model automatically opens the QUARC standalone 3D visualization window. The pendulum is initially in the downward position. The controller then uses an energy-based swing-up control scheme to swing the pendulum back and forth until it is close to the upright position. Once the pendulum is sufficiently close to upright and is not moving too quickly, the controller switches to a balancing control algorithm to maintain the pendulum in the vertical position. Once the pendulum is being balanced, the rotary arm is commanded using a generated square wave and the controller continues to balance the pendulum in the upright position, despite the movement of the supporting arm. Notice how the controller exhibits non-minimum phase behaviour to ensure that the pendulum does not fall when moving to the next arm position; in other words, it gives the arm an impulse in the wrong direction to get the pendulum leaning before moving the arm to the correct orientation.

If you have taken QUARC 2.0 for a test drive, you probably noticed how it can now act as a Virtual Plant Simulator (VPS) without hardware and also without Real-Time Workshop (RTW) (as the VP can be run in Simulink normal simulation mode)! Real-time operation is achieved by using the QUARC System Timebase block.

This demonstration also serves as another example of the powerful visualization capabilities provided with QUARC 2.0, including inheritance, specular lighting and fog. As a reminder, the QUARC 2.0 visualization module has been previously showcased in our Visualize Your Simulation and Quanser Visualization Blocks posts.

So what other best way is there to start the new year than to ask for a QUARC 2.0 demo license, try all these new possibilities firsthand and see it for yourself?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Win with QUARC: Quanser Announces Winner of HP Netbook

In December, we asked users of QUARC what they thought of Quanser's real-time control software. Those who participated in our survey were entered into a draw to win a trendy HP Netbook. We are happy to announce the winner is Professor Mohamad Saad from the University of Quebec at Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Congratulations!
Thank you to everyone who took the time to give feedback.

Quanser's control engineers are eager to know what else we can do to meet the needs of professors who use QUARC to teach controls, for graduate-level research or for ground-breaking research. If you would like to provide feedback, contact us at We are listening!
Paul Gilbert, Quanser's CEO drawing the lucky QUARC survey participant to win HP netbook