Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Concerning the Task at Hand: a Very Sophisticated People-Mover

I’ve begun to realize it might be beneficial to copy-and-paste a note in my phone containing the elevator pitch of what I’m doing this summer. Whenever friends ask what I’m doing away from Chicago, there’s a whole lot of explaining to be done. So here goes, in written form (duration depends upon how fast you read, and how long the elevator ride is):

I’m working with an NSF research center called the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power. They selected students from around the country and sent them to different universities which are focusing on hydraulics- or pneumatics-related projects. My project is a patient transfer device – essentially a large machine controlled by a nurse to move heavy disabled or injured patients between rooms, beds, wheelchairs, to name a few. My job is to design an obstacle avoidance system for the chassis, using ultrasonic sensors. Because National Instruments is sponsoring a good amount of this project, we are using LabVIEW, a graphical programming language. Currently I’m configuring obstacle avoidance code which uses twelve sensors to create repulsion vectors which sum to the target vector to form a resultant. This technique is known as Vector Force Field. I’m also integrating several wall-following modes.

Looking back on the past 6.5 weeks (where has the time gone!?), I’d say that there were countless hiccups along the way. I’d define week 4 as being everything-is-broken week, week 5 as being computer-change-over week, and so on. But it’s also incredibly cool to see the progress that’s been made. I began with nary the slightest clue how to code anything in LabVIEW without a lab manual, and now my code is exceeding the size of several monitors (you cannot zoom in or out in this program). I’m excited to get some live testing done, where the chassis is actually being driven all over the room, (hopefully) avoiding any obstacles we place in its way. Additionally exciting will be mounting and wiring the 12 sensors. I’ve 3D printed a case to keep the sensors safe, and I’ll have to print 11 more soon.

I'm very proud to be designing and printing parts! It's so fun!

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