A design for a new robotic platform won the prestigious Drexel University’s annual College of Engineering senior project design competition. The Swerve robotic platform was placed first out of eight competing teams that were given only six minutes each to present their entries.
A project stakeholder explained that the winning team designed the platform with the human-machine interface in mind, aiming to make the most agile robotics wheeled-platform to date, while maintaining a high level of precision and sensing ability. The design was aimed at enabling autonomy and highly dynamic motion, with the potential for use in a number of applications.
The robot is a highly versatile, three-wheeled, autonomy-enabled vehicle that can carry large loads while moving at high speeds and accelerations. It was designed, fabricated and tested using motion-capture systems, advanced machining, computer simulations and software, as well as SICK Automation’s light detection and ranging, or LiDAR, sensor.
According to its designers, the robot incorporates four different design elements and weighs less and carries more than similar robots.
“Robotic mobility platforms today contain just a couple of the elements of lightweight, high-speed, omni-directional and integrated technology but Swerve incorporates all four,” says team member Freddy Wachter.
The project had to meet a number of criteria, including a vehicle weight below 45 kg, while supporting weights of up to 136 kg. In addition, the vehicle had to move faster than Olympic runner Usain Bolt at more than 45 km an hour and accelerate faster than 5.8 m a second. The robot also required omni-directional wheels, which roll forward like normal wheels but also slide sideways with almost no friction. Integrated autonomy was an additional requirement, allowing for manual and autonomous functionality in structured and unstructured environments.
The use of sensor technology was a key element of the design, to support navigation, autonomy and agility. The robot uses Sick Automation’s two-dimensional, or 2D, LiDAR sensors for area-monitoring and data capture, as well as inertial measurement unit sensors. The robot receives the data through a SICK TiM561 sensor, which provides scan angles and ranges to the closest object to those angles. These scans can then be visualised and used to create 2D representations of the robot’s local environment.
A number of mechanical and structural elements were incorporated, including omni-directional caster wheels, slip rings to keep wires tangle-free and brushless motors for fast acceleration. Welded crush tubes were built into the aluminium chassis to allow the robot to withstand heavy loads. The components were manufactured using five-axis water jet cutting, three-dimensional computer numerical control milling, aluminium welding, as well as manual lathe and milling processes
The Swerve robotic platform may initially be used to compete in robot combat competitions, such as BattleBots but has the potential for many other future uses, including personal mobility for the disabled and entertainment and amusement applications, such as a base for trackless rides.
In addition, the robot could be used in the logistics industry and it also has the potential to incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence for customer-specific applications.