jump to navigation

HeartLander: A Miniature Mobile Robot That Crawls Around the Heart, Powered by LabVIEW November 16, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight, labview robot projects.
Tags: , , , , ,
4 comments

Recall from the NIWeek 2010 Day Three Keynote: Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, predicted the next 20 years of technology development, describing tiny robots that would travel throughout the body, taking readings, administering medication and performing tiny microscopic procedures, all while we go about our daily routines.

Researchers at the Carnegie Melon Robotics Institute are one step ahead of us, delivering the HeartLander, a miniature robotic device that can crawl around the surface of the heart, taking measurements and performing simple surgical tasks, all while the heart continues to pump blood throughout the body. I stumbled upon Nicholas Patronik’s Ph.D. thesis describing this project (and I encourage everyone to check it out). Here is what I found out:

An early prototype of HeartLander, a small robot that can adhere to and traverse a beating heart.

Robot-assisted surgery
NI technologies have been used for robot-assisted surgeries before, but the HeartLander robot addresses two major challenges of cardiac therapy and surgery:
•    Gaining access to the heart without opening the chest
•    Operating on the heart while it is beating

Several options for tackling these challenges exist today. Thoracoscopic techniques use laparoscopic tools inserted through the chest cavity to operate on the beating heart (think DaVinci Robot). While this avoids cracking open the rib cage (ouch!), even less invasive methods exist for accessing the heart and performing simpler procedures, like dye injections. Percutaneous transvenous techniques access inner organs through main arteries and veins. For example, a doctor can guide a heart stent through the veins in your thigh to treat blockages, and this procedure is performed on an outpatient basis. While these transvenous procedures are easier to recover from, thoracoscopic techniques offer much more flexibility in the complexity of surgical operations that can be performed.

Illustration of HeartLander

The HeartLander robot is considered a hybrid of these two approaches in that it can achieve fine control of thoracoscopic techniques while maintaining the ability to be performed on an outpatient basis, like the percutaneous transvenous techniques. It adheres to and traverses the heart’s surface, the epicardium, providing a tool for precise and stable interaction with the beating heart. Even better, it can access difficult to reach locations of the heart such as the posterior wall of the left ventricle (the side of your heart that faces your back).

How it works
The HeartLander is launched onto the surface of the beating heart through a small puncture underneath the bottom of the sternum. From there, the robot steadily traverses the epicardium like an inchworm. Offboard linear motors actuate the robot forward while solenoids regulate vacuum pressure to suction pads. Watch a video of early prototypes inching across an inflated balloon, a synthetic beating heart and a porcine beating heart to see HeartLander’s motion in action (warning: the video clips get progressively graphic in nature).

An umbilical tether sends and receives information between the HeartLander and the control station, where the pressure to the suction pads is monitored and controlled to maintain grip at all times. The mobility of the robot is semiautonomous: it uses a pure pursuit tracking algorithm to navigate to predetermined surface targets, and can also be controlled via teleoperation.

Two drive wires transmit the actuation from off-board motors for locomotion. A 6-DOF electromagnetic tracking sensor is mounted to the front of the body.

It can navigate to any location on the epicardium, with clock speeds up to 4 mm per second, and acquire localization targets within 1 mm. But what I think is particularly exciting about this application is that the robot’s motion is controlled entirely with LabVIEW software and NI data acquisition hardware.

So far, the HeartLander has been successfully demonstrated through a series of closed-chest, beating-heart porcine studies. We don’t have tiny robotic heart worms crawling around in us just yet. But we’re certainly excited to see how the HeartLander project progresses and we’re proud that NI technologies are helping pave the way for incredible, futuristic innovations like this.

Learn more about the HeartLander project on CMU’s website

Discover other autonomous robots designed and controlled using LabVIEW software

Advertisements

Open Source Project: Robot Swarm October 13, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in code, labview robot projects.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

We all know programming just one mobile robot with artificial intelligence is hard. So adding more robots and having them exhibit a collective behavior can increase the difficultly level exponentially. This is what makes swarm intelligence such hot topic in the world of robotics today.

During a National Instruments user conference, I saw a very impressive swarm demo from the NI Robotics R&D team:

Karl Muecke, the project lead, is now lifting the hood and opening up all of the build instructions and control code used to create his robot swarm. He starts will high level topics like hardware architectures, data communications, localization, driver station UI, obstacle avoidance and path planning, and then delves into the details in each area.

Check out the entire open source project on the NI Robotics Code Exchange and be sure to continue checking in, as he continually adds more pieces to puzzle.

NIWeek 2010 Robotic Swarm Demo

Georgia Tech Researchers Teach Robot to Lie September 13, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Georgia Tech Regents professor Ronald Arkin (left) and research engineer Alan Wagner conducted simulations and experiments as part of what is believed to be the first detailed examination of robot deception.

Is this the first step towards a Skynet-like robot takeover? You decide. Read the full article on the Georgia Institute of Technology Research News blog.

(I, for one, welcome our robot overlords)

Cyborg Fly Controls Mobile Robot Through Obstacle Course August 31, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in labview robot projects.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Erico Guizzo, editor of the IEEE Spectrum Automaton Blog, recently featured a cyborg fly application from Chauncey Graetzel and his colleagues at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems. Essentially, Swiss researchers have devised a closed-loop system that uses a tethered fly to control a robot and perform obstacle avoidance. How is this possible? Check out Erico’s post to get a good breakdown of the system.

I should mention this application was a finalist in the Robotics category for the 2010 Graphical System Design Achievement Awards. This is an annual paper contest that recognizes amazing feats and innovative applications built using National Instruments hardware and software.

Dr. Graetzel and his team needed a control system that was super fast and super flexible. They used NI CompactRIO as an interface to an LED-based visual stimulus arena at temporal and spatial resolutions that allowed them to efficiently stimulate the fly’s visual system. LabVIEW software was used to record these signals and provide the real-time execution for stimulus generation.

Here’s what Dr. Graetzel had to say about using NI tools for his project:

LabVIEW and CompactRIO provided an ideal solution for building a control loop that incorporates a living insect and allows us to perform a variety of experiments. CompactRIO acquires and generates signals for a multitude of industry standards and extends custom-made research tools. In addition, we achieved major efficiency gains with the ability to distribute our application between a PC, the real-time controller, and the FPGA without having to learn several programming and design languages. The range of available add-on products and interfaces also offered great potential for future extensions and adaptations.

Here’s a video of the mobile robot successfully avoiding obstacles using the feedback from the fly (which is tethered inside the LED cylinder array):

Watch more videos and read Dr. Graetzel’s submission to the Robotics category in the Graphical System Design Achievement Awards contest here:

Designing a Robotic Device to Study Flying Insects Using LabVIEW and CompactRIO

Snake-like robot developed by the Army – powered by LabVIEW July 28, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
Tags: , , , , ,
2 comments
Check out the latest front page article on army.mil, the official page of the U.S. Army:

Army technology expands snake-robotics

The story highlights a snake-robot developed by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. The robo-snake is biomemetic, meaning it maneuvers just like a real snake would, pushing off ground surfaces to propel itself. It can crawl, swim, climb or shimmy through narrow spaces while transmitting images to the Soldier operator. And it’s scalable, such that it can be built a robo-snake however large or small they’d like it to be. It’s expected to help with search-and-rescue and reconnaissance missions.

I’m sure you recognized the software on the command laptop’s screen too. Yep, that’s LabVIEW. Developers are using the graphical programming language to quickly and cost-effectively interface to the robot’s sensors and control it’s actuators. They can rapidly build and test early prototypes and ultimately deliver this dexterous robot to the field more quickly, saving lives and taxpayer dollars.

Read more about how the robot works here.

Vecna BEAR Military UGV: A Jack of All Trades July 14, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

I’ve written about Vecna Robotics’ Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (BEAR) before and am familiar with its development process. Its design engineers used LabVIEW and NI CompactRIO to rapidly build and test early prototypes and win defense contracts.

BotJunkie recently featured a video that captures the Vecna BEAR in action. Admittedly, one can see that the actual “extraction” of military casualties still looks a bit awkward and probably needs more work. I’m sure operating a robot with so many degrees of freedom in a potentially hostile environment is extrememly difficult and requires an enormous amount of practice. Bottom line, this is definitely one of the more friendly military robots that is helping save lives.

But once you take handling an injured human out of the equation, the robot can actually serve several other purposes that may not require as much poise. For instance, the BEAR can help with more logistical tasks, like handling munitions and delivering supplies. It’s payload capacity is a whopping 500 lbs, so it could definitely help as an extra hand on the battlefield. And because of it’s dexterity, it could perform maintenance functions as well, such as inspection, decontamination and refueling. Saving time and effort allows troops to focus on the task at hand, which indirectly reduces the risk soldiers are exposed to.

So the BEAR is certainly a robotic jack-of-all-trades that could prove extremely useful when fully deployed. It’s fun to imagine full convoys of these surprisingly cute robots in the future (by the way, the video explains the cuteness factor).

MiNI-HUBO Series: LabVIEW Driver for Dynamixel Motors July 9, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in code, labview robot projects.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Recall Mini-Hubo, the small, humanoid research platform developed by RoMeLa. I had mentioned his joints are actuated by Robotis Dynamixel motors, high-performance networked actuators built specifically for robots.

Karl, our resident humanoid expert, has graciously shared the LabVIEW drivers that allow you to communicate with these robot-specific motors, plug-and-play style. Check out the LabVIEW Robotics Code Exchange to automatically download the driver and install it into LabVIEW. For anyone using Dynamixel motors for their own robot designs, this will save you lots of driver development time.

Download Dynamixel Motor Driver

Don’t have LabVIEW? You can check it out for free here.

Blind Driver Challenge – Next-Gen Vehicle to Appear at Daytona July 2, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight, labview robot projects.
Tags: , , , , , ,
3 comments

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has just announced some ambitious plans inspired by RoMeLa. According the their recent press release, they have partnered with Virginia Tech to demonstrate the first street-legal vehicle that can be driven by the blind.

We saw RoMeLa’s work awhile back and featured the technology used in their first prototype. The NFB was immediately convinced about the viability RoMeLa’s prototype demonstrated and put them to work on a street-legal vehicle with some grant money. The next-generation vehicle will incorporate their non-visual interfaces with a Ford Escape Hybrid, reusing many of the technologies they used in their prototype. The drive-by-wire system will be semi-autonomous and use auditory and haptic cues to provide obstacle detection for a blind driver.

The first public demo will be at the Daytona International Raceway during the Rolex 24 racing event. News coverage is popping up all over the place.

If you can’t make it to Daytona, RoMeLa will be showing off their first prototype (red dune buggy) at NIWeek in August, in case anyone wants to take it for a spin.

Up Close and Personal with the Predator UAV June 23, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

I’ve said several times over that military robots often get a bad rep, when in fact, they are helping save time, effort and ultimately, lives.

Consider Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): these robots can serve as the military eyes and ears in the sky, helping provide strategic surveillance information about identified and possible threats. They can fly undetected at extreme heights and see things humans cannot, using a variety of sensors like thermal cameras to detect things unseen to the naked eye.

These drones aren’t just spying on enemy territory. They can help protect U.S. borders as well. The Predator drone, for instance, is now being commissioned by the U.S. Customs Border Patrol to provide remote surveillance of the Texas border.

This video provides an excellent description of how these UAVs actually work. I was most impressed with the amount of redundancy these remotely-operated vehicles must have. Take a look and learn:

A recent news update reports that the border drone flights have been temporarily suspended due to a communications fault experienced during a recent test flight. It just goes to show how extremely cautious we must be when sending out unmanned vehicles to wander around in our atmosphere.

More information about robotic border patrol here.

See how NI technologies are also used on-board unmanned aerial vehicles like the Global Hawk.

LEGO-maniacs Build a Monster Robot Chess Army June 17, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in labview robot projects, robot fun.
Tags: , , , ,
3 comments

I’ve always said the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT serves as a great robotics prototyping platform. Steve Hassenplug, LabVIEW programmer and king of Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOL), proves this point with his latest LEGO masterpiece: a monster-sized army of robotic chess pieces, each controlled by a MINDSTORMS NXT brick and programmed using LabVIEW.

Watching the video reveals the sophistication of the robots. Each piece not only processes individual path planning on the gigantic chess board, it also communicates with other robot chess pieces via Bluetooth to coordinate moving around the robots that are obstacles in the path of the current chess move.  All of the NXT bricks communicate with each other in addition to the host PC running the standard chess engine and the user interface, creating a robot army ready to school you in a game of chess.

Steve plans to show his chess army live-in-action at this year’s Brickworld Conference, where I’m sure there will be other interesting NXT-based creations and LEGO treasures.

For more information about Steve’s Monster Chess project, visit his team’s website.

If you have LabVIEW, you can download the free toolkit to build sophisticated programs like Steve’s Monster Chess Army with your LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT here.