Monthly Archives: July 2016

Getting started with Baxter Simulator

To learn robotics properly, one needs a robot to play with. Building a robot is costly and not simple, so a simulated robot can be utilised to replace the physical one. Most of robots for research purpose currently utilise Robot Operating System (ROS), because it is flexible, modular, and open source. Mastering ROS is a must for robotics researchers or enthusiasts nowadays. Baxter robot, created by Rethink Robotics, is a good medium to learn ROS and robotics.

baxter_pick_placeAlthough Baxter is a great robot with unique features, but it is reasonably expensive. For learning purpose, it can be replaced with Baxter simulator. Previously, it is only available for the organisation who has bought Baxter, and it does not have any grippers attached in the Baxter’s arms. Since the end of 2015, the simulator has been updated, one of the biggest change is the grippers addition, and now it is open-source, so everyone can use it. This post will guide you to learn to use Baxter simulator in more systematic way.

Why Baxter simulator?

Here are several reasons to use Baxter simulator:

  • It is fully functioning, and open source, simulator.
  • Baxter is ROS-ready. It provides a user friendly Python API that wrapped ROS interfaces in Python classes. Baxter simulator is developed in Gazebo, another open source program.
  • While one can learn about ROS by using the turtlebot simulator, it is only a mobile robot. On the other hand, Baxter has two manipulators, so one can learn to control the arm control using a simple joints control, an inverse kinematics (IK) solving or a complex trajectory planning. Many other complex extension can be performed on Baxter.
  • Baxter robot is well documented. This post just fills the small gap on that excellent documentation.

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Building a 3D Printed Mini Rescue Robot (based on OARK)

Most robot kits available in the market, such as : LEGO Mindstorm, Fischer Technic, Bioloid, are limited in flexibility and durability. There may be no available parts that suitable for particular need. Those robots will also not be able to traverse on irregular and cluttered terrain which is common, for example, in rescue area.  Open Academic Robot Kit (OARK) is an open source robot kit that exploits the advent of 3D printer technology. It is created by Dr. Raymond Sheh (Curtin University) to lower the barrier for everyone who wants to enter robotics research field, particularly rescue robot. The robot also has a nick name: Emu Mini 2, as it is a mini version of the Emu, an autonomous rescue robot in school of Computer Science and Engineering , UNSW.  The official webpage of OARK is http://oarkit.intelligentrobots.org/.

Here is the compilation of Emu Mini 2 which I demonstrate on a mini rescue arena at RoboCup 2015 in Hefei, China.

I will describe the main components of the robot that we build here at CSE – UNSW based on OARK:

  • 7 servo motors Dynamixel AX-12 from Robotis
    • 4 motors to move the mobile base and 3 others to move the arm
  • USB2Dynamixel from Robotis
    • It is utilised to connect the motors to RaspberryPi via its USB port (not its GPIO pins as usual)
    • OpenCM 9.04 board is also can be used, see here
  • RaspberryPi 2 and a Micro SD card
    • Although the first version can be used, RaspberryPi 2 have much faster processor and it has 4 USB ports which is useful in our system
  • RaspberryPi Camera and a long camera cable (50 cm)
    • A long cable is needed as the camera is located in an articulated arm
  •  Wi-Pi dongle from Element 14
    • A wi-fi dongle for Raspberry Pi
  • Wireless Gamepad Logitech F710
    • A PS3 dualshock controller is also can be used, see here
  • Rechargeable LiPo battery (output : 12V, 1750 mA)
    • To supply the servo motors
  • Power bank (output 5V, 1 A) or attach a voltage regulator to convert 12 V (from battery) to 5V
    • To supply the Pi

Here is the not-so-complete list of the robot’s materials and where to get them.

There are 7 steps to build this robot.

  1. Preparing the mechanical robot parts
  2. Preparing the RaspberryPi 2
  3. Preparing connection between RaspberryPi and Dynamixel AX12 motor
  4.  Controlling Dynamixel AX12 using PyDynamixel Library
  5.  Interfacing a wireless joystick and RaspberryPi
  6.  Intuitive motor control using a wireless joystick
  7.  Video streaming via PiCamera

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