Since my last update, my group has made a lot of progress on our continuum arm. After completing assembly of the second segment, we spent a lot of time debugging and implementing various changes to improve the overall functionality of the arm. Additionally, due to time constraints, we had to decide which problems were insignificant enough to leave un-addressed. The biggest one we decided to leave alone was the backbone material, which isn’t completely elastic as it should be. This causes minor problems in the robot’s operation, but since it is just a prototype, it doesn’t have to be perfect! The most significant change we did make was adding new control schemes. We now have three different control options for the robot: Dual-Joystick Control, Single-Joystick Segmented Control, and Single-Joystick Compensative Control. These control schemes provide three slightly different ways for the user to interact with the robot.
Now that we are happy with how our robot works, we have been able to move on to addressing the main goal of this research project: to determine the place this type of robot holds in the field of assistive technology. In order to accomplish this, we need to be able to observe how well people are able to interact with and control our prototype. We’ve developed an experimental procedure to help us determine which of our current control schemes is the most intuitive. We began our first round of user testing today and hope to set up our robot at the farmer’s market on Wednesday to collect more data. Once we have enough data to help us decide which control scheme people generally prefer, we will move onto our second round of testing. While we don’t have the exact procedure outlined yet, we hope to use this round of testing to see how much individual performance improves with practice and training. If we can show that a user can learn how to control this type of system efficiently, we will have a strong argument for the use of this type of robot in potentially assisting the elderly or people with disabilities.
In addition to all the fun we’ve had in the lab, we’ve also managed to keep ourselves pretty busy outside of work. When I first came to Menomonie, I was worried that we would quickly run out of things to do. Luckily, that has not been the case. We usually go out for lunch or dinner a few times a week so we can try all the different cafes and restaurants. Kari and I got to explore a lot of the little shops around town for Ladies Night too, and I’ve been back to a few of them since then. We’ve also visited the local farmer’s market, the Devil’s Punchbowl, and the St. Croix County Fair. This weekend some of us did an escape room at Escape EC in Eau Claire and we escaped with almost 15 minutes left on the clock! On the nights when we don’t have time to go out and explore, there’s usually a group of us playing card games or watching Netflix together in the basement of Hovlid. All in all I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far, and I can’t believe it’s almost over!