June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
Computers in Education
24.369.1 - 24.369.21
Design of a Full-Featured Robot Controller for Use in a First-Year Robotics Design Project For the past nineteen years, the first-year engineering honors program at “a largeMidwestern university” has included a robotics design project as the cornerstone of its yearlongcurriculum. This component of the program has helped to increase retention and has providedstudents with valuable teamwork skills. Over these years, the MIT Handy Board has served asthe controller for the autonomous robotic vehicles built by students. While it has slowly becomeantiquated, this controller has provided a durable, integrated design that has continued to meetthe unique needs of this design project. This paper details the design of a new, custom-builtrobotics controller that provides a modern update to the MIT Handy Board for use in a first-yearrobotics project. The new controller has integrated features that make it more suitable to the program thanoff-the-shelf microcontroller packages equipped with additional plug-in modules to provide thenecessary capabilities for the control of a small autonomous robot. Before a custom-designplatform was developed, current off-the-shelf offerings were assessed. Several differentprocessor boards including Ardunio and other ARM-based systems were evaluated and deemedto be too expensive, not compact enough, or not capable enough for the needs of the program. This new robotics controller went through several design iterations and testing. An initialprototype was used in a class outside of the standard first-year engineering curriculum. In thisclass, students completed laboratory assignments designed to be similar to those performed bythe first-year students. Through this testing, a complete system redesign was performed tocorrect issues that arose during this in-situ testing and further optimize the design for a 60%reduction in size and a 25% reduction in system cost. In the final design, a 32-bit ARM microcontroller running at 100MHz was used as theprimary processor, a vast improvement over the 2 MHZ, 8-bit processor of the MIT HandyBoard. The controller consists of a 3.5” diagonal, full-color, touch screen LCD, 2.4 GHzwireless module, 32 configurable, multi-purpose ports which provide digital input, digital output,16-bit analog input, and various serial communication standards. Four three-amp brushed DCmotor drivers are contained onboard as well as the ability to control up to eight standard hobbyservo motors. All functionality is powered via an internal lithium ion battery pack. A laser-cutacrylic case housed all components. A custom software suite was also developed to allowstudents to easily program the device for their robots. The new controller was piloted successfully in Spring 2013. The controller was deployedto half of the teams, which allowed for comparison with the Handy Board. Despite a handicap,partially due to limited experience of the instructional staff with the controller, final performancescores were approximately 5% above the Handy Board users. It is expected that this newcontroller will meet the needs of the program for years to come, and could serve as a basis forother design courses that use similar controllers.
Vernier, M. A., & Wensing, P. M., & Morin, C. E., & Phillips, A., & Rice, B., & Wegman, K. R., & Hartle, C., & Clingan, P. A., & Kecskemety, K. M., & Freuler, R. J. (2014, June), Design of a Full-Featured Robot Controller for Use in a First-Year Robotics Design Project Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. https://peer.asee.org/20260
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