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Project Proposal: Honors Tutorial in Mechanical Engineering

Fall 2010
Professor Stolfi
Phillip Dupree

The majority of mobile robot utilize some form of wheels in order to move. There are different
drive configurations, such as tank drive, in which two sets of wheels parallel to one another
move and the robot turns by moving only one of these parallel sets, or “crab drive”, in which the
wheels move independently, leading to more maneuverability but also more complexity.
Regardless of the configuration, they all rely on wheels to move the robot. However, wheels
have significant shortcoming. They often cannot handle unpredictable terrain – such as rocks,
sand, or gravel – nor can they move up stairs or very steep hills. For this reason, there is a
burgeoning class of robots using some form of legs for mobility.

The robot I propose to build this semester is a highly mobile hexapedal robot, actuated by six
legs in the shape of a C. The robot's body will be a small, rigid frame to which the six legs will
be attached. Each leg will be independently actuated by a DC motor, in turn controlled by a
microcomputer programmed in C. The inspiration for this design is the RHex robot, a hexapedal
robot built in the GRASP lab at University of Pennsylvania. See picture below. After the robot is
built and able to walk, I will integrate a number of basic optical sensors so that the robot can
follow a wall and be able to turn at corners.

The legs will move in an alternating

tripod gait, with the two “tripods”
revolving in anti-phase relative to one
another. Each tripod will be set to a
Buehler clock function with a slow and
fast phase. In the GRASP lab, to
achieve this, the clock uses a piece-
wise linear angle vs. time reference
trajectory characterized by four
parameters: the total stride or cycle
period, the duty factor (the ratio of a
single stance period over the cycle
period), the leg angle swept during
stance, and an angle offset to break symmetry in the gait [11]. Different “gaits” can be designed
by altering the parameters of the gait. Figuring out how to translate the Buehler clock function to
microcomputer control will be one of the primary challenges of this independent study.

Design Steps
There will be three primary steps to completion. I plan to work on them in more or less the order
I present them below.

1) Mechanical Design: The rigid body of the robot will be the first part to be designed. This
rigid body must allow for the six motors and C legs to be attached. It will be machined
out of either acrylic, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), or another material able to
be easily machined on the laser cutter. The exact dimensions of the frame cannot be
known until we have the motors and speed controllers and can lay them out on the
material, to see how much space we need. The C legs will be simply machined out of
PVC pipe, cut to about one-inch thickness, with about a quarter of the arc segment
removed (to turn a PVC ring into a PVC “C” shape). The most difficult part of the
mechanical design will be figuring out how to securely attach the C-legs to the motor

2) Electrical Design: This is the part of the project I feel will be, by far, the most
challenging. In the Mechatronics and Embedded Microcomputer Control course, the
controller circuit of the DC motor was all ready constructed. It is this controller circuit,
which serves an interface between the microcomputer and the DC motor, that is most out
of my area of knowledge. I may be able to reconstruct the controller circuit from the
schematics given in the Mechatronics case studies, or I may be able to use a prepackaged
speed controller, vastly simplifying my work.

3) Programming: Once the mechanical design is complete and the controller circuit
successfully interfaces the motors and the microcomputer, it will be time to program the
microcomputers to that both sets of motors move in alternating tripod gate, out of phase
with one another. This I believe to be quite doable; the only significant problem I foresee
is figuring out the initial position of the motors and the legs. I will need the legs to start in
a “home” position, and for the gait to begin from that position. This will require the
addition of some sort of optical or hall-effect sensor into the electrical design.

4) Sensor Technology Integration: Once the robot is a functioning open loop walking
machine, I will add some basic control into the robot by integrating optical sensors. The
idea is for the robot to be able to navigate along a wall, including turning at corners. The
optical sensors will change in voltage output as the sensor is blocked by the wall. The
robot should then be able to turn ninety degrees and follow the wall.

Steps to Completion Timeline

Assemble parts – Acrylic/ABS, motors, speed 09/17/10
controllers, PVC Pipe
Cad Model of body 09/24/10
CAD Assembly of body and legs 10/01/10
Lasercut rigid body and cut out legs. 10/08/10
Design and create part to lock PVC legs to 10/15/10
motor shafts.
Assemble body, motors, and PVC legs 10/23/10
Wire motors through speed controllers into 10/30/10
Program alternating tripod gait into 11/20/10
Program Stair-climbing gait and/or optical 12/04/10
sensors into robot.

Necessary Materials:
Item: Quantity:
Large Sheet of ~0.5” thick lexan or ABS 1
2 foot long 4-6” diameter PVP pipe 1
Screws, nuts, washers of assorted size X
DC motors 6
Microcomputer 1
Speed controllers (if I do not build my own 6
controller circuit)

Conclusion: I will deem the project a success is the robot can walk without the bottom of the
frame touching the ground. This will require significant gait-tuning, even after the legs are
successfully moving in alternating tripod gait. As an added bonus, I would like to program a
second gait in which the robot can climb stairs. In this gait, the pairs of legs on either side of the
frame move together, so the robot drags itself along and can climb stairs. This should be simple
to do after the first goal is reached.