Two weeks in to the Robotics REU here at UW Stout, I’d say things have gotten off to a very good start. I’m living in a room that’s supposed to be a double, and has AC and a view of the lake, so I can’t really complain about that. I get to try some of Wisconsin’s famed beer, which has not disappointed so far (cheese curds are next on my list). I even got to visit my first ever Catfe (a cafe where you can eat AND pet the live-in cats), which was a pretty neat experience. One of the other things that I still really want to do is try out the on-campus disc golf course.
In terms of the project itself, I’m honestly super excited about all aspects of it. First off, I have two awesome project partners – Max and Megan – who are not only super smart and hardworking, but just generally really great people. Second, we have a super awesome project focus: a continuum robot arm! Basically, a continuum robot arm is one that features a flexible backbone supported by disks mounted at even increments, such that when the arm is actuated, the entire thing bends continuously. This is as opposed to a typical rigid, linked robot arm, that only bends at the joints in between the rigid segments (the segments themselves do not bend). Some of the primary advantages that a continuum robot arm has over a rigid arm are: 1) it has infinite degrees of freedom, meaning that it can form almost any shape, 2) it is made of generally ‘soft’ materials, meaning it cannot cause serious harm to a human, and 3) it can potentially be made at a much lower cost. Our team hopes to capitalize on all of these advantages in choosing an application for our arm, especially the fact that the arm can safely be used in the presence of humans (such robots that are capable of safe interaction with humans are also known as co-bots).
So far, our team’s primary work has been on conducting a literature review and building a second stage for the continuum arm which had been built by UW Stout students before we arrived. We’ve made good progress on both fronts, and in fact, we just finished our first iteration of the second stage today (July 10th). Of course, we weren’t able to get it quite right on our first try, so we’ll have our work cut out for us over the next several weeks (it turns out that programming controls for these kinds of arms is a rather non-trivial task, a fact which our literature review confirms). However, we are very optimistic about the progress we’ve made so far, and confident that by the end of this program, we will have a truly innovative design!