The first two weeks of the program flew by, and I feel like I’ve already gotten so much out of it. UW-Stout’s campus is really nice and small enough that most things are within walking distance. There are also a lot of neat little cafes and restaurants around campus, and we’ve had a lot of fun trying some of them out. I’m already a regular at Tabby’s Catfe! Another thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is that everyone is really friendly. From the students working the front desk at Fleming-Hovlid to the lab managers, everyone has been fun to talk to and very helpful in answering any questions we’ve asked. So far I’m really enjoying getting to know the area and my fellow researchers.
Within the first few days of arriving in Menomonie, my group had already received our first task. We were given a functional continuum robotic arm and instructed to improve upon it by adding a second segment, all the while brainstorming potential uses for the final product. The past several days have been spent working on this task. We began by re-wiring and re-programming the arm to make its motion and control a little bit more intuitive. In the process, we have also come up with the design for the second segment of the arm. Having printed or ordered the necessary parts, we are now in the final stages of assembling this segment and hope to have it completed within the next couple days.
With the robot nearing completion, we will soon need to decide upon an application for it. This is where our tour of the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute has proven very useful. We were able to learn about a lot of existing assistive technology and begin to think about what sort of place our robot might hold in this field. As a robotic arm is certainly nothing new, our robot’s inherent safety and low cost will be its main selling points in how it furthers the state of the art. Our hopes are that our robot will be able to help people in rehabilitation or those individuals with disabilities accomplish day-to-day tasks without human assistance, thus giving them increased independence. Our options are currently restricted by the robot’s limited payload capacity and lack of an adaptive gripping mechanism. Therefore, a big decision we will have to make in the near future is whether we want to put the time and energy into eliminating these limitations or simply use our current prototype as a proof of concept, hopefully paving the way for further development in the future.