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Development of a MATLAB/ROS Interface to a Low-cost Robot Arm

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Computers in Education Division Technical Session 4: Digital Learning Part II

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Robert L. Avanzato Pennsylvania State University, Abington

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Robert Avanzato is an associate professor of engineering at the Penn State Abington campus where he teaches courses in electrical and computer engineering, computer science, and robotics. His research interests are mobile robotics, computer vision, intelligent systems, collaborative virtual environments and innovative education.

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Robot Operating System (ROS) is an open source, Linux-based robotics development and deployment system which supports many commercial and research robots, including mobile robots, underwater robots, aerial robots and robot arms (manipulators). ROS provides a distributed, networked, message-passing system that provides a standard development and deployment software architecture across a variety of sensor and hardware platforms. In 2015, MATLAB has released the Robotics System Toolbox which provides a ROS interface and associated robotics algorithms. This MATLAB product enables engineering students to more easily communicate with ROS-enabled robots from standard Windows OS and/or Mac OS workstations running MATLAB. The advantage of this MATLAB/ROS solution is to provide students with a more intuitive and interactive programming environment, visualization tools, simulation tools, and integration of other MATLAB toolboxes such as computer vision and control. This approach enables students to perform more advanced projects in robotics across a variety of robot platforms and sensors without learning new programming languages and toolsets. This paper describes the development of a MATLAB Robotics Toolbox ROS interface and educational resources for a low-cost robot arm (Dobot) in a senior-level robotics design course. Laboratory exercises were developed and tested using MATLAB Robotics Systems Toolbox and a ROS-enabled Dobot robot arm. Topics covered included an introduction to forward and inverse kinematics, pick and place algorithms, color sorting, shape detection of objects (rejection of defective parts on a conveyor belt), and introduction to motion and trajectory planning. The Dobot is a commercially available, low-cost ($1500), 4 degree of freedom robot arm with 0.2mm precision and is capable of pick and place as well as laser engraving and 3D printing. This robot has a small footprint and is an ideal device for a classroom or laboratory setting. The significance of this research is that a low-cost robot arm with a professional-level ROS/MATLAB software interface can greatly improve student access to advanced, hands-on, project-based education in intelligent manufacturing and Industry 4.0. Laboratory exercises and advanced student projects will be described. Student evaluation and assessment of the educational benefits will be included in the final paper. These results also have significance to the introduction of modern robotics concepts, including industrial robots and intelligent manufacturing, into K-12 and STEM activities.

Avanzato, R. L. (2020, June), Development of a MATLAB/ROS Interface to a Low-cost Robot Arm Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34447

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