Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Microrobotic Teams Selected for Virtual Manufacturing Automation Competition (VMAC) and the Mobile Microrobotics Challenge (MMC)

Photomicrograph shows Mag-µBot, the entry from Carnegie-Mellon University in the NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge. The microbot is about 500 micrometers in lengh, the same size as an amoeba, and is propelled by magnetic fields.
 photomicrograph of the microrobot entry from Carnegie-Mellon University, about 500 micrometers in length.
Credit: Chytra Pawashe, Carnegie-Mellon University

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced that 11 university teams will square off next week in two contests designed to prove the viability of advanced technologies for robotic manufacturing automation and microrobotics. The Virtual Manufacturing Automation Competition (VMAC) and the Mobile Microrobotics Challenge (MMC) are both part of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Anchorage, Alaska, from May 2-6, 2010.

Vying for top honors in the VMAC will be two teams from Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Ga.; one group from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M.; and an international squad from the University of Zagreb, Croatia. They will use off-the-shelf computer gaming engines to run simulations of a robot picking up boxes of various sizes and weights from a conveyor belt and then arranging them on a pallet for shipping. There will be several rounds in the virtual reality competition, beginning with basic scenarios and adding complexity to the tasks as the rounds progress. Successful simulations will then be run for real using Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to deliver packages in a one-third scale factory environment.

Seven teams will compete in the MMC: Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.; ETH, a science and technology university in Zürich, Switzerland; the French Team (a group consisting of researchers from the FEMTO-ST Institute and the Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et de Robotique, or ISIR), Paris, France; Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J.; the University of Maryland, College Park, Md.; the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; and the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.

Their tiny robots—whose dimensions are measured in micrometers (millionths of a meter)—will be pitted against each other in three tests: a two-millimeter dash in which the microbots sprint across a distance equal to the diameter of a pin head; a microassembly task where pegs must be inserted into designated holes; and a freestyle competition where each team chooses a task for its robot that emphasizes one or more abilities from among system reliability, level of autonomy, power management and task complexity.

NIST is conducting the VMAC in cooperation with IEEE and Georgia Tech, and collaborating on the MMC with the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. The partners are hosting these two competitions to “road test” many of the skills that future industrial robots—both full-size and miniature—will need to carry out their functions.

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