Over Halfway Done?!

user interface figure

We’ve still got almost 3 weeks left in this REU program, but it feels like the end is just around the corner. With so much still left to do, I think my mind is trying to tell me that I better start using my time as efficiently as possible it we’re gonna get this project done on schedule. I’m very excited to see what we’re able to accomplish by the end of this program but also a bit nervous that we might fall short of our goals.

OK, now that I’ve got that anxiety out of my system, I can provide a proper update on what’s happened since that last time I posted. First of all, our team (Max, Megan, and myself) have made a lot of good progress with our continuum arm. We’ve worked out all of the important kinks since we added the second stage (a much grander task than you might imagine), and we’ve developed some new control schemes for the arm. Now, in addition to controlling each segment with an individual joystick, we’ve got two different control schemes that allow you to control the arm with only one joystick. These single joystick schemes are very important because a large portion of our target population consists of people who only have issues with one of their arms – this way, they can use their good arm and the robot in tandem while controlling the robot with their bad arm.

This week (Week Six), we started user testing with our arm. We’re hoping to do a couple of rounds of user testing, working our way up in complexity as we go, so this first round is pretty simple. It basically consists of the users picking up a nut (metallic) using the electromagnet mounted at the end of the arm and dropping it into a cup on the other side of the arm. Then they have to do that two more times – one with each of the other two control schemes. The goal is to get an idea of how the control schemes compare to each other as well as how well the robot functions on a whole. We’re planning on taking the arm to the Menomonie Farmer’s Market on Wednesday in order to reach out to more people, and I’m very interested to see how it turns out!

If things go according to plan, we’ll finish up the first round of user testing this week, perform a second round next week, and write our final paper in the last week. The end goal is to have a product worthy of submission to an academic journal or conference. If we’re successful, we just might be heading to Australia next summer for ICRA 2018!!

Now I’ve said so much about the robot that I feel there’s not much room left to give an update on life in Menomonie, but to be honest, not a whole lot has changed. We’ve all tried out a few new restaurants – I’m a big fan of Acoustic Café, and half price burgers at Silver Dollar was a hit with everyone – and I’ve continued my journey as a Wisconsin beer connoisseur… I have yet to be disappointed (although I’m not sure that I’m sold on Spotted Cow). I’ve also become a regular at the Raw Deal coffee shop, perhaps one of my favorite coffee shops I’ve ever been to. In the coming weeks, I’m planning on going to a Twins game (I actually already have the tickets) as well as watching some racing at the Red Cedar Speedway, and I’m super stoked on both! I also feel like I definitely need to go for a walk down the Red Cedar Trail, because every time I pass it by I can’t help but remark how beautiful it is.

TL;DR: Much progress has been made, but there’s still plenty to do in these last three weeks! I can’t believe this program is over halfway done, but I certainly plan on making the most out of the time I have left here!

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