Palm-Sized Ground Vehicles

Students from Rutgers University’s Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (RU-IEEE) branch are dedicated to advancing technological innovation. The Rutgers team considers themselves the future circuit designers, programmers, and CEOs who wish to help exciting technology happen now. It is the opportunities, like out-of-classroom competitions, that the students at RU-IEEE believe fosters the professional development they are looking for.

In this computer generated rendering of the RU-IEEE micromouse, it’s easy to see the way that the tires fit into the design. Also notice the light sensors, a key element in the micromouse’s operation.

Students from Rutgers University’s Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (RU-IEEE) branch are dedicated to advancing technological innovation. The Rutgers team considers themselves the future circuit designers, programmers, and CEOs who wish to help exciting technology happen now. It is the opportunities, like out-of-classroom competitions, that the students at RU-IEEE believe fosters the professional development they are looking for.

This year RU-IEEE will compete in the IEEE micromouse competition for the first time. The competition involves building a palm-size, lightweight, and agile robot that can solve a maze as quickly as possible. The design of the micromouse robot creates several challenges to the team.

First of all, the robot must entail high torque, high speed motors, a custom printed circuit board, and an array of sensors, which will include infrared and optical range sensors. The micromouse also must maintain a minimum weight and size in order to fit the parameters of the competition. The IEEE micromouse competition emphasizes increased dynamic control of the robot compared with other competitions the RU-IEEE team has entered in the past.

The Rutgers’ team’s robot was designed at 80 mm wide, 110 mm long, and 5 cm high. In order to incorporate all the required motors, sensors, slots for two printed circuit boards, and batteries, the team chose to build the frame in two halves. The frame halves were manufactured by Solid Concepts, Inc (Valencia, CA), out of black Nylon 11, using the company’s Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology.

While SLS production began as a way to build prototype parts early in the design cycle, it is now being used to manufacture end-use parts. SLS production is economically viable for low complexity designs when the production volume is so low that tooling expenses are hard to justify. At the other end of the extreme, SLS production can be economically viable for even large production volumes if the design is of sufficient complexity that it would be difficult or impossible to fabricate the part with any other method.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive rapid manufacturing process that builds three-dimensional parts by using a laser to selectively sinter (heat and fuse) a powdered material. The process begins with a 3D CAD file, which is mathematically sliced into 2D cross-sections. The part is then built layer by layer until it is completed.

Parts can be created from a range of materials, including Nylon-11 and Nylon-12 polyamides, or nylons with fillers such as glass beads, aramid or carbon fibers (to enhance physical properties), and a variety of metals. Depending on the material, up to 100 percent density can be achieved with material properties comparable to those found with traditional manufacturing methods.

In this photo, the final micromouse was assembled and waiting for the PC board to be installed. The unit is compact and fast.

As a highly accurate additive manufacturing process, SLS can produce shapes that can’t be produced using standard subtractive technologies such as CNC machining. The micromouse robot, built by the RU-IEEE team uses two stepper motors for motion. Five IR range sensors are incorporated into the frame as well.

Additionally, the tires used on the micromouse were manufactured using Solid Concepts’ SLS process, and provide high traction to the micromouse. According to Nitish Thatte, member of the RU-IEEE Student Branch, “The components we received from Solid Concepts – the two frame halves and two tires – fit perfectly right out of the box, which allowed us to assemble the micromouse robot quickly and easily.”One sensor faces forward, two are faced at 90 degrees to the left and right of the forward facing sensor, and two additional sensors are spaced at 45 degrees to the left and right of the front facing sensor. The interface boards are used to operate the two stepper motors based on the inputs from the five sensors.

For more information:

Rutgers’ RU-IEEE group:

Site: http://ieee.rutgers.edu

Site: http://ieee.rutgers.edu/content/vex-robotics

Solid Concepts Inc:

http://www.SolidConcepts.com


Author Bio: Terry Persun is a Technology Journalist, and holds a Bachelor’s of Science as well as an MA in Creative Writing. He has worked as an engineer as well as a marketing consultant. Six of his novels have been published. The latest is “Cathedral of Dreams”, a science fiction story of the near future.

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