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

Posted by emiliekopp in labview robot projects.
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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

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

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
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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).

National Instruments Releases New Software for Robot Development: Introducing LabVIEW Robotics December 7, 2009

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight, labview robot projects.
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Well, I found out what the countdown was for. Today, National Instruments released new software specifically for robot builders, LabVIEW Robotics. One of the many perks of being an NI employee is that I can download software directly from our internal network, free of charge, so I decided to check this out for myself. (Note: This blog post is not a full product review, as I haven’t had much time to critique the product, so this will simply be some high-level feature highlights.)

While the product video states that LabVIEW Robotics software is built on 25 years of LabVIEW development, right off the bat, I notice some big differences between LabVIEW 2009 and LabVIEW Robotics. First off, the Getting Started Window:

For anyone not already familiar with LabVIEW, this won’t sound like much to you, but the Getting Started Window now features a new, improved experience, starting with an embedded, interactive Getting Started Tutorial video (starring robot-friend Shelley Gretlein, a.k.a. RoboGret). There’s a Robotics Project Wizard in the upper left corner that, when you click on it, helps you set up your system architecture and select various processing schemes for your robot. At first glance, it looks like this wizard is best suited for when you’re using NI hardware (i.e. sbRIO, cRIO, and an NI LabVIEW Robotics Starter Kit), but looks like in future software updates, it might include other, 3rd-party  processing targets (perhaps ARM?)

The next big change I noticed is the all-new Robotics functions palette. I’ve always felt that LabVIEW has been a good programming language for robot development, and now it just got better, with several new robotics-specific programming functions, from Velodyne LIDAR sensor drivers to A* path planning algorithms. There looks to be hundreds of new VIs that were created for this product release.

Which leads to me to the Example Finder. There’s several new robotics-specific example VIs to choose from to help you get started. There’s some examples that help you connect to third-party software, like Microsoft Robotics Studio or Cogmation robotSim. There’s examples for motion control and steering, including differential drive and mechanum steering. There’s also full-fledge example project files for varying types of UGV’s for you to study and copy/paste from, including the project files for ViNI and NIcholas, two, NI-built demonstration robots. And if that’s not enough, NI has launched a new code exchange specifically for robotics, with hundreds of additional examples to share and download online. ( A little birdie told me that NI R&D will be contributing to the code available on this code exchange in between product releases as well.)

This is just my taste of the new features this product has. To get the official product specs and features list, you’ll have to visit the LabVIEW Robotics product page on ni.com. I also found this webcast, Introduction to NI LabVIEW Robotics, if you care to watch a 9 minute demo.

A more critical product review will be coming soon.

Looks like the robot revolution has begun.

How to Drive a Car with an iPhone November 10, 2009

Posted by emiliekopp in labview robot projects, robot fun.
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How do you turn an Oldmobile Delta 88′ (affectionately named Wendy) into a remote controlled car? There’s an app for that. Check out what some NI engineers created in their spare time:

Check out other projects from these car-surfing cowboys at engineerawesome.com.