2012 Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium

Columbia Engineering’s Department of Applied Physics and Mathematics (APAM), in which I am a major, recently featured my September 27, 2012 presentation with two fellow undergrads about our ongoing assistive robotics project at the Columbia Robotics Lab.

Check out the post at APAM here. Below is our abstract.

“Lightweight, Inexpensive, and Human-Friendly Methods for Design in Assistive Robotics”

While the field of robotics has achieved great strides in the past few decades, one challenge remains: mimicking the machinery of the human body itself. An industrial robot is capable of performing impressive tasks, but its operation is limited to areas free of human interaction. Aside from military and industrial incentives, there is an increasing demand for robots in the home — especially for the disabled. While there already exist many robotic arms for the disabled, most are costly and heavy. Our aim was to explore ways to design a relatively inexpensive, lightweight, and human-friendly mobile manipulator system (a robotic arm mounted to a moving platform). In the future, we plan to mount this arm to an electric wheelchair. This is part of a broader, National Science Foundation-funded project at Professor Peter Allen’s Columbia Robotics Lab to create a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) controlled robotic assistive device for those with full-body disabilities. Furthermore, the project will incorporate the Columbia Hand, an under-actuated hand designed at the Robotics Lab, and GraspIt!, a program also created by the Lab which uses BCI to quickly recognize and determine the most effective grasp for picking up objects.

An extensive literature review was performed throughout the summer to gain insight into existing commercially-available technologies and projects at other universities. This insight was then applied toward designing a robotic arm using as many off-the-shelf components as possible. We also concluded that new methods of manufacturing, such as laser-cutting and 3D-printing, led to a cost-efficient, simple, and easily-reproduced design. To learn about safety precautions and the various user needs for an assistive robotic arm, we consulted doctors at the Columbia Medical Center. Because assistive robotic arms are often used in domestic environments, safeguards are necessary to prevent injury to people and obstacles during collisions in close quarters. One major solution involved series elastic actuators (SEAs), a growing trend in assistive robotics. SEAs’ allowance for compliance in a collision was an efficient method of increasing safety and allowing the manipulator to “feel” around. We are currently in the process of building and implementing the design.

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