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     Volume 5 Issue 97 | June 2, 2006 |

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Robotics on the Move

Imran H. Khan

Human beings top the evolution scale not only on intelligence but also on the fact that they are the laziest of animals. They are constantly looking for ways to evade work. Since the invention of the word 'robot' by Czech writer Karel Eapek (in 1921), humans are building on it such that these robots would soon deliver us from the toil of hard work. Today, there are over a million household robots and another million industrial robots operating around the globe. While robots are usually used to perform tasks that require great levels of precision or are simply repetitive and boring, people are also using these machines to perform hazardous tasks, such as exploring shipwrecks in the deep sea, studying other planets and defusing bombs or mines. To keep up with all the developments around us, Abu Syed Khan and his group, all students of North South University (NSU) have come up with their own robotic project.

The robot "Shadhin" version 1.0 came into being after the group was inspired during a course on robotics. "We were supposed to make a simple robot model but we took it as a test to make something big," says Khan. The brainchild of this robot, Khan initially consulted with a friend, Prince, about the detail aspects of the machine. "We had to obtain a certain file from the Internet, which we used to convert commands from human language to binary digits (machine language)," Khan says. Using this option, they started to work on the foundation of the robot, a robot that could be made to follow simple commands from a remote location, wirelessly.

Shadhin ver 1.0 hopes to dispose of bombs someday with its user-friendly interface

The first thing any robot needs is a body and the parts, the hardware components of the model. The first member in Khan's group was Asaduzzaman, who saw to the hardware plans. His work was to do some basic work on the robot, say move it forward and back. This involved sender and receiver circuits, opto-copular decoder, transistors, etc. The second member of the group was Emdadul Haque. He took charge of motor rotation and dynamics. Three motors were used in the robot. The first was used to move the robot, the second motor rotated the mechanical arm and the third motor was used to move the arm up and down. The last member to join the group was Tarek Shahriar. Once the group was set, Khan got his younger brother to sketch a design for the robot. He's sketches were really good and it took little time to get approval from the university authorities to go ahead with the robot. The fun was about to start.

Though the robot can only follow simple commands now, in the future the group will include cameras and microprocessors to further upgrade the a.i. of the robot

The first step of the project was to obtain finance. Initially, all of the members pooled in about Tk 10,000 for the cause and found themselves in Dholaikhal, looking for spare parts. Their first objective was to find a direct current (d.c.) motor. What was difficult initially was to obtain three 12-volt motors. There are basically three components of the robot. The first is the Hardware, the second the Circuit and finally the Software. The circuit too was made to suit the 12 volts.

In order to make the robot move and perform easy tasks, the robot had to be given some commands from an interface. The next task was to make this interface wireless. There were three possible ways the commands could be passed wirelessly to the robot: Bluetooth, Infrared or Radio link. The group decided to go for the last option which enables the user to control the robot even through walls. The robot is accessed through the printer port and when a command is sent to the printer port, there is a sender and a receiver action taking place. The sender in this case is the computer while the receiver is the robot. There is a circuit box on the robot that is able to receive the commands sent by the printer port. The range of the robot is about 20 feet.

There were numerous complications while this robot was being developed. They played about with the polarity of the d.c. motors to move the robot forward and backward and to move its arm. Two batteries were used to power the robot. "We made a circuit to get commands and this needed power, as did the motors," points out Haque. Another complication what the boys faced was the language of the software. The file on which we built the robot was compiled in C# (C Sharp) language, which is somewhat like Java, says Khan. "It took us almost a month to get familiar with this programming language". The foundation of their software is therefore in C#.

The robot's artificial intelligence (AI) is very low. All the decisions now are premeditated. In the future, the boys hope to include sensors, processors, microprocessors as well as microchips to take more commands, and make decisions and calculations. The best thing, in their view, would be to mount a laptop on the robot.

The creators of Shadhin, (from left) Emdad, Tarek, Syed and Asad

Such a robot can have a lot of application in a place like Bangladesh. In the case of a bomb threat, one could easily use the robot wirelessly to dispose of the bomb. The robot has an arm, which can pick up the bomb and take it to a safe place for disposal.

Attached to the printer port is the sender console. The robot receives the command from this via radio link

Maybe this is a simple step for these young university guns but their applications are at the moment being used world-wide. Exploration robots are being sent to space by NASA to perform tasks currently dangerous instead of humans. Back on earth, robotic submarines, also known as remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, are exploring the ocean beds or ice-capped waters, while heat resistant robots are monitoring the activity in volcanoes. The robots are also helping in medical fronts. They are assisting surgeons to perform precision procedures. The best example of such robot would have to be the da Vinci robotic surgical system, which is used for keyhole surgery. It operates on anything from gall bladder removals and brain surgery to heart bypasses. More recently, tiny, wireless and robotic camera-capsules are being used to pass through a patient's digestive system. It can then beam back images of problems within with human system.

Creativity knows no bounds. While some people like to write on grains of rice, others indulge in painting and poetry. Yet, some others prefer to connect bits and pieces of electronics together to make a robot. Khan and his energetic group have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the robotic world but they have surely taken the first step.

(Details about the robot can be obtained from Abu Syed Khan at abusyedkhan@yahoo.com)

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