Today's advanced and sophisticated robots are used in many applications but a common challenge for users is to learn the correspondence between the input device and the target robot. To make them easier to drive, researchers at the Intelligent Motion Laboratory at Indiana University came up with a method to create inexpensive, table-top sized models of robots to provide teleoperate input control to full sized robots. They call it 'ROBOPuppet'.
One day while working in the lab, some researchers were driving a camera on the end of a robotic arm to capture 3D data. Part of the data to be collected was a shot of the underside of a table. The researchers could see how the robot should be positioned to capture that data but, no matter how hard they tried or how they moved the robot, they could not get the robot to safely enter that configuration. The movements necessary to get into that position required moving multiple joints at once in a very fluid and complex fashion. They could see how it could be done but the counter intuitive nature of the controller prevented them from achieving their goal. It was incredibly frustrating. It was at that point ROBOPuppet was first considered.
RoboPuppet is a 3D printed miniature replica of your target robot, which uses encoders embedded in the joints to translate the user's physical action with the puppet directly into the motion on the robot. The kinesthetic mode of operation is familiar to those why played with action figures and dolls as children. It lets users to control complex motions in a cheap and more intuitive way than traditional joysticks or joint level control.
The cost of building a RoboPuppet for a 6DOF robot was only $85, according to the researchers. The major expense goes to an arduino microcontroller. Of course puppets that articulate more that 6 joints will require a microcontroller with additional analog ports, thus more expensive.
Since RoboPuppet is a 3D printed object, most of the construction time was spent on the printing for each part. For example, a Staubli TX90L 6DOF puppet took approximately 35 hours to construct with 29 of those hours spent on printing.
To construct a RoboPuppet is also not that difficult: you just need to have access to a 3D printer, basic soldering and wiring tools and some basic work tools(box knife, screwdriver, glue, etc).
"One of the primary goals of ROBOPuppet is to create a method that anyone with access to those tools can use to create their own puppet." explained researchers. "In following this goal, all parts of the ROBOPuppet method are designed with a minimal learning curve for all tools."
RoboPuppet is not just a 3D printed miniature for teleoperating full-size robots, it is also a calibration tool and a "real-time planning method for translating puppet movements into robot movements that are safe and respect the dynamic limits of the target robot."
This method can be easily adaptable so that everyone can build their own inexpensive version using a 3D printer and easily purchased parts.
The team has created instructions on how to build a 30% scale model of a TX90L robotic arm. The tutorial uses FreeCAD, TinkerCAD, Makerware Desktop, a Makerbot Replicator 2X printer, Arduino IDE and KLAMP'T to help you to modify, print and use the puppet. You can follow their step by step guide hereto make a custom ROBOPuppet yourself.
The ROBOPuppet, created by Anna Eilering, Giulia Franchi and Kris Hauser from Indiana University, was presented in IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in September 2014.
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