Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Highlights from the Engineering Deans Institute 2011

I recently participated in the American Association for Engineering Education (ASEE) Engineering Deans Institute (EDI), held in Palm Springs, CA. The Annual ASEE EDI meetings provide an opportunity for engineering deans, industry leaders and those in important roles in research and government to gather and discuss crucial issues facing their schools, colleges and profession.

The theme of the 2011 meeting was “Engineering Empowering Society”. For a few days, the single-stream program fostered dialogue between deans, industry leaders, and those in important roles in research and government. Some of the key threads discussed were:

  • Engineering as enabling discipline: Impacting the economy, through innovation and the creation of new businesses and enterprises; empowering the “other 90%” in the world (at the “bottom of the pyramid.”)
  • Better preparing US engineering students by innovative engineering curricula, and by improving the K-12 pipeline.
  • Engaging all segments of the society to ensure a robust supply of talented engineering human resources.
  • Communicating the relevance of engineering and avoiding erosion in technological leadership: “changing the conversation,” as articulated by the NAE and ASEE.
  • Maintaining and enhancing US engineering global leadership.

For me, the highlight of the meeting was Dr. Charles M. Vest’s Main Plenary Address on “Engineering Education: Creating Opportunity in a Changing and Uncertain World.” Dr. Vest, President of the National Academy of Engineering, spoke about engineering education being at the core of America’s research universities, the general recognition that America’s economic growth and global competitiveness are increasingly being driven by advances in knowledge and that America’s engineering schools do and will continue to play a key role in the acceleration of scientific discovery and innovation.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Quanser Worldwide Team Gathers To Focus On Academia

Two weeks ago we proudly hosted the second annual Quanser Distributor Conference (QDC) in Toronto. The three-day event brought together 22 of our distributors from Europe, South and Central America, the Middle East, Asia and Australia, to meet and mingle with Quanser's engineering, sales and marketing teams.

Completely committed to the worldwide academic market
Three days were devoted to discussing a wide variety of business topics, hands-on demonstrations of Quanser solutions and one thing more - the opportunity for all of us at Quanser to listen to our individual distributors and learn more about the needs and concerns of engineering professors and researchers in their part of the world. Ultimately this will help us and our distributors to serve academia even better.

An unrivalled range of products for engineering labs
A full day was dedicated to a hands-on, product-oriented Tech Tour at Quanser headquarters in Markham, Ontario. Distributors circulated through five product demonstrations areas: Earthquake Engineering, Rotary Motion Controls, Mechatronics, Unmanned Vehicle Systems and Robotics. In-depth discussions took place at every demonstration station. At the end of the day, distributors had a clear picture of the full capabilities of all key systems.

More investment in new products, technology and people
Distributors also heard about future plans and got a sneak peek at some new Quanser educational products for 2011 - 2012. These include improvements to our MechKit, our Quanser Ground Vehicle (QGV) and a new Wind Turbine Experiment. We're excited about all of them. New hires in our engineering, sales and marketing departments took the opportunity to meet the distributors. These personal connections will make our worldwide communication easier and ultimately be of great benefit to engineering educators.

The 2011 Quanser Distributor Conference is barely over, but the distributors have already told us the conference was positive and energizing. Indeed, everyone involved - Quanser and its distributors - left even more closely focused on working with our engineering academics to advance the worldwide quality of engineering education.

Watch some highlights of the 2011 Quanser Distributor Conference:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Coming Soon: A New Robotic System That Gives Research and Training A Hand

In the not-too-distant future, robotics research and teaching will take a significant step forward thanks to some new R&D work currently underway in Quanser's robotics division. The research involves having a prototype of a future Quanser product - a small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) - being tele-operated through a gesture-sensing glove linked to a magnetic tracking system.

This will open up new and better possibilities for robotic control research and teaching. Researchers, instructors and students can expect a deeper, more intuitive experience as well as a significantly shorter learning curve. Essentially, this new system will extend the capability of our UGVs for research and teaching by adding a new layer of gesture-based functionality.

Click below to view the tele-operation in action. As you will see, the kinematics and Jacobian of the arms are solved. The hand motion and gestures are calculated, mapped in a global frame, and transmitted wirelessly to the UGV rover. The arm is clutched with the operator's thumb and his index finer controls the gripper.

At the macro level, here's how the system and glove "fit" together: a magnetic motion tracking system and the gesture-sensing glove have been integrated into QUARC control software functionalities. This high resolution tracking system computes the translation and rotation motions, i.e., roll, pitch and yaw, in a pre-defined Cartesian frame. The data is used to compute a transformation matrix and conveys sufficient information about the operator's hand motion. The glove itself contains strain gauges that capture the operator's hand gestures.

Using QUARC communication blocks, the transformational matrix and the glove data are transmitted to the Gumstix processor onboard the small UGV. Infrared sensors and an RGB camera are some of the other devices onboard the UGV. The QUARC program receives the motion commands from the station PC.

The kinematics and Jacobian mapping motions of the robotic arm are computed and the commanded motions are translated into joint level PWM inputs for the arm. The PWM commands are applied to the servos using HiQ. (The latter is a data acquisiton board specially designed and manufactured by Quanser to be used onboard unmanned aerial vehicles and small unmanned ground vehicles.)

This project is the result of coordinated research and contributions from the Quanser Robotics Team. Amin Abdossalami, R&D Engineer, was responsible for the controls, kinematics and tele-operations. Cameron Fulford, Engineering Manager, Systems & Control, designed the hardware interface and made it a module inside QUARC. Don Gardner did the final assembly of the robot and shot the video demonstration.

The small UGV with glove tele-operation functionality will join the fleet of Quanser unmanned systems in the near future. We're very excited about its ability to offer researchers and students a better tool with which to work and learn.