Thursday, September 9, 2010

And so it begins...

I started "full time" at the Center last week and figure it's about time that I started posting to this blog regularly, otherwise I never will. For those who don't know, a little over twelve months ago I won a Hardie Fellowship, enabling me to undertake research and study at the Tufts University's Centre for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO). A few months ago, I posted some early thoughts about my fellowship, and now it's time to continue that story...

Two weeks ago, I came into the Center for a Biomimetics workshop with members of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab. These guys have been working on some awesome robotics projects, including some amazing bio-inspired projects such as sub-200mg micro air vehicles. I was surprised to learn that they had never played with LEGO robotics. The workshop started with an introductory challenge, for the Harvard team’s benefit, to create a robot that moves. We were working in pairs. Pairs that had prior experience with the NXT were given an additional challenge. In my pair, we worked on making a weight shifting, walking robot. We based our approach on an idea that used an RCX motor that I recalled from the 2nd edition of Eric Wang’s Engineering with LEGO bricks. Because the NXT motors are bigger than RCX motors, we needed to scale up our robot, and eventually ran out of time to complete the challenge. This is, however, one that I would like to come back to at some stage.

Following the first challenge, we had a discussion and brainstorming session about different movement/propulsion systems in nature. We came up with a list that included walking, hopping, jumping, climbing. The Harvard team were very knowledgeable about biological systems.

The second challenge was to choose one of the movements and replicate with the NXT. In my pair, we worked on a swinging robot. We ended up trying to simulate the movement of a child on a swing, using the motors as the legs. This lead to some lively discussion about the important of legs v the position of the body, and whether or not swinging legs at the right time puts energy into the motion. We calculated the period of the swing based on its length, and used this as a guide for determining how frequently to move the legs, but ended up having to adjust this to keep it in sync. More research (and in particular, a trip to a set of swings!) is required.

The workshop concluded with my first game of ultimate frisbee (I was glad that I wasn’t the only newcomer to the game) and pizza. It was a great introduction to being at the Center, and I left looking forward to coming back...

1 comment:

  1. It must be great to finally be getting to work! I hope it all continues well.