In response to…

(1) the rapidly increasing demand in society for engineers with robotics expertise,

(2) the under-utilization of the FANUC robot on campus, and

(3) the current barriers that must be overcome to use the robot,

we added a functionality to the robot in order for a human, who has no advanced FANUC robot understanding, to move and guide the robot in a more comprehensive and hands-on way using a space mouse.

The world is rapidly changing, and we need to keep up.

Robots are transforming industry and automating business processes – specifically small, agile robots able to interact with humans. With such a large demand in the workforce for engineers with robotics experience, the engineering department should be supporting and challenging its systems and mechanical engineering majors, especially those with concentrations or minors in robotics. 

But…our robotics students have never used a robot.

Although we have a curriculum that gives a basic understanding of robotics, dynamics, and controls, we have a fully functional FANUC Robot in WashU’s Controls Lab that a substantial number of WashU robotics engineers have no idea how to use.

Why is that?

In our own experience, part of the reason that the FANUC robot is underutilized could be attributed to the amount of time and effort involved in learning how it works. In general, controlling the position and motion of the robot is not necessarily intuitive – even when using the FANUC teach pendant. With the teach pendant, it is difficult to record a smooth desired path of motion and involves stopping and restarting the movement.

Additionally, the previously established path of communication between the robot and the computer – Ed Richter’s MATLAB script – was also limited in functionality and required some background knowledge and explanation in order to use. 

With all of that, it’s no surprise that students haven’t wanted to tackle this piece of machinery in the past.