The tool uses a drag-and-drop interface that allows users to choose from a library of components – including both 3-D-printed and off-the-shelf parts – and place them into the design. It also suggests compatible components, provides potential placements for actuators, and can automatically generate structural components to connect those actuators.
An iterative design process lets users experiment by changing the number and location of actuators and to adjust the physical dimensions of the robot, and an auto-completion feature automatically generates assemblies of components by searching through possible arrangements. When the design is complete, the tool provides a physical simulation environment that can be used to test and tweak the design before it is fabricated.
“The process of creating new robotic systems today is notoriously challenging, time-consuming and resource-intensive,” says Stelian Coros, assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. “In the not-so-distant future, however, robots will be part of the fabric of daily life and more people – not just roboticists — will want to customize robots. This type of interactive design tool would make this possible for just about anybody.”
In developing the tool, the research team developed models of how actuators, off-the-shelf brackets, and 3-D-printable structural components can be combined to form complex robotic systems. They then verified the tool’s feasibility by designing a variety of robots and building two: one was a wheeled robot with a manipulator arm that can hold a pen for drawing, and the other a four-legged robot – dubbed the “puppy” – that can walk forward or sideways.
According to robotics Ph.D. student Ruta Desai, who presented a report on the design tool at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Singapore, “The system makes it easy to experiment with different body proportions and motor configurations, and see how these decisions affect the robot’s ability to do certain tasks.”
“For instance, we discovered in simulation that some of our preliminary designs for the puppy enabled it to only walk forward, not sideways. We corrected that for the final design. The motions of the robot we actually built matched the desired motion we demonstrated in simulation very well.
“Our work aims to make robotics more accessible to casual users,” says Coros. “This is important because people who play an active role in creating robotic devices for their own use are more likely to have positive feelings and higher quality interactions with them. This could accelerate the adoption of robots in everyday life.”
The team is currently working to simplify the tool’s library requirements before making it generally available. For more, see “Computational Abstractions for Interactive Design of Robotic Devices ” (PDF).
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