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Robot designed by students successful at international competition


BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 3, 2006 – “DARwIn”, a bipedal walking humanoid robot designed by a team of mechanical engineering (ME) students, captured the full attention of the judges at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) International Design Engineering Technical Conference in Philadelphia. While attending the conference, the Virginia Tech team won second place in the 2006 ASME International Student Mechanism Design Competition, undergraduate division.

The four students who entered the ASME competition were Karl Muecke of Purcellville, Va., Jeff Kanetzky of Mechanicville, N.Y., Raghav Sampath of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Patrick Cox of Arlington, Va. All four students majored in mechanical engineering and graduated in the spring of 2006. They were members of the senior design team which developed DARwIn and then elected to participate in the ASME competition this month.

“Designing DARwIn was definitely a didactic experience. I learned a lot about teamwork and time management as a team. I also realized the value of communicating ideas clearly via presentations, reports, and summaries,” said Muecke. “Oftentimes we shortchange the writing part of engineering, but I'm quickly finding out that you spend more time telling people about what you've done and what you're going to do than time actually doing the work,”

The award marks the second straight year Virginia Tech has received top honors in the ASME competition. Last year, undergraduate student Derek Lahr of Charleston, S.C., won first place for his design ,“Cam-Based Infinitely Variable Transmission.”

DARwIn (Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence) is a humanoid robot capable of bipedal walking and performing human-like motions. It was developed at Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) by the ME student senior design team. DARwIn is a research platform for studying robot locomotion and will also serve as the base platform for Virginia Tech’s first entry in the RoboCup competition in 2007.

The robot is 600 millimeters tall, weighs four kilograms, and has 21 degrees-of-freedom (DOF). The arms and legs are connected to the body by three DOF kinematically spherical joints which provide a wide range of motion, similar to a shoulder or hip joint. Each joint is actuated by DC motors. The robot carries Li-Poly batteries as its power source, a PC104 single board computer for processing, three rate gyros to track orientation of the body, and various sensors including eight force sensors on the foot.

The team was advised by Dennis Hong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. “Our success is the result of mechanical engineering’s outstanding senior capstone design projects. For many of the senior design projects I advise, the undergraduate students design and build exciting robot hardware as research prototypes that we use for experiments in our lab, RoMeLa, said Hong. “The undergraduate students get a chance to participate in the research portion of the project and my graduate students have their robots made—a win-win situation. Two of the seniors enjoyed the research experience in the lab so much they decided to continue on towards a graduate degree at Virginia Tech.”

The ASME competition’s basic specification for the design entry was “any device that transmits a force or a motion in a deterministic way to perform a mechanical task.” The design could consist of rigid or deformable bodies connected with kinematic or flexural joints; be constructed of any type of materials, including smart and other active materials; actuated by means of any transduction principle; and employ any form of energy input. The size of the device could range from nano-scale to macro-scale.

Finalists in the ASME design competition were selected based on creativity and novelty, practicality, integrity of analysis and design procedures, manufacturability, proof-of-concept (whether a demonstrative model is made), and quality of the project report. “Participating in the competition was a big highlight for our team. It was the largest crowd I’ve ever made a presentation to so the experience gave me a lot of confidence about our design,” said Muecke.

“The students and I can’t wait to participate in RoboCup 2007, an international robotic soccer competition next year. We will be the first U.S. team to enter the humanoid robot division. This is a collaborative effort between the ME senior design students and students in the School of Architecture + Design, advised by Ed Dorsa, associate professor. The team is working on a new covering for “DARwIn 2.0” so it will be ready for its debut at RoboCup!,” said Hong.

For more information about the DARwIn robot and the lab visit the RoMeLa website.