10 Amazing Inventions Made Possible by Mechatronics Engineering _ Capitol Technology University
10 Amazing Inventions Made Possible by Mechatronics Engineering
By Sarah Dimock
So, you’ve come across the term mechatronics, maybe you’re even considering becoming a mechatronics engineer, but what do mechatronics engineers actually do? It turns out, you may be more familiar with mechatronics than you think. The combination of mechanical and electrical engineering with computer programming, mechatronics is increasingly everywhere. And we bet you’ve heard of some of these famous inventions that have only become possible through mechatronics unique combination of skills.
1. Sophia the Robot
Developed by Hanson Robotics, Sophia is one of the most famous robots in the world for her interactions with people based on an artificial intelligence. She’s become an ambassador for AI, with her creators exploring and pushing the boundaries of that new technology every day. But did you know that Sophia also uses mechatronics to operate? She moves, talks, and needs power to run in addition to that famous computer brain. According to her, “I… have IK solvers and path planning for controlling my hands, gaze, and locomotion strategy. My walking body performs dynamic stabilization for adaptive walking over various terrain.”
Sophia’s social skills would be less impressive if she didn’t understand that she should look at you by tilting her head, or that she should move her mouth according to the timing of her speech. She chooses to send power to various parts of her body to move when her programming tells her to, or in other words, she functions via mechatronics.
2. NASA’s Curiosity Rover
“In some sense, the Mars Science Laboratory rover’s parts are similar to what any living creature would need to keep it “alive” and able to explore,” says NASA. They describe Curiosity as having a computer brain, a battery and power for energy, and wheels for mobility. It can also move its arm and hand to collect samples and analyze its environment and communicate with NASA back on Earth with further instruments on board.
Many astronautical projects employ mechatronics engineering as well. From robots on other planets to probes and satellites, if it moves, needs power, and is directed by a computer it’s mechatronics.
3. Anti-lock Brakes
This is one we bet you didn’t think of, but mechatronics engineers are responsible for a lot of the functions of your car. Anti-lock braking systems, or ABS, work via sensors that detect the speed of your wheels in addition to an algorithm that tells the car when your wheels are turning faster even though you are trying to brake. When your wheels lock up the ABS activates and tries to keep your wheels from skidding while you slow down. It lets you continue to be able to steer the car while it helps you stop.
How Stuff Works says, “The ABS controller knows that such a rapid deceleration is impossible, so it reduces the pressure to that brake until it sees an acceleration, then it increases the pressure until it sees the deceleration again. It can do this very quickly, before the tire can actually significantly change speed. The result is that the tire slows down at the same rate as the car, with the brakes keeping the tires very near the point at which they will start to lock up.”
Biomechatronics is a newer field, but a fascinating one. Mechatronics engineers are making machines to support, or in the case of a loss to replace, the natural functions of the human body. One of the most sophisticated examples of this today is i-Limb, a prosthetic hand with bionic components to aid amputees. i-Limb uses sensors placed on the wearer’s skin that allow them to control the movement of the hand and fingers through muscle signals. Each finger has its own motor so that wearers can move every part of the hand in a way that mimics the body’s natural motor control. As this field expands we can almost certainly expect to see more and more lifelike prosthetic options, wearable tech, and possibly even mechanical organs or sophisticated aides for internal body parts like the heart.
5. The CNC Machine
CNC machines, or Computer Numerical Control devices, manipulate shop tools to help users build prototypes. Typically, users use a software to tell the CNC machine what to do. For example, a mechanic, engineer, or blacksmith might use CAD to draw up a design they want cut out of sheet metal and the CNC machine will cut that shape precisely. Woodworkers can use CNC machines to help them shape wood-based projects or to engrave or etch special designs. Some of the earliest CNC machines were even used to make punch tape.
The Roomba might be the only robot on this list that you’ve actually seen in person. This hugely popular little vacuum was designed by Joe Jones in collaboration with Jack Shimeck and originally hit homes in 2002 when it was released by iRobot. Several different upgraded versions of the Roomba have been released since, and it only seems to be getting more popular as time goes by. Who wants to vacuum their house when a little robot could do it for you? You can even program it to run at certain times so you can set it and forget it.
The Roomba works by using a combination of computer algorithms, sensors, and a three-prong spinner brush designed to help snag dirt even out of square corners. It has two motorized wheels which move independently of one another to let the Roomba turn a full circle in place. Fun fact, Jones built the original prototype for the Roomba out of Legos.
7. Robotic Arms for Automation
Not to be confused for number four on this list, these robotic arms can come in sizes bigger than you are. Mechatronic engineers are in high demand in the manufacturing industry where devices like robotic arms are being used on factory floor assembly lines to lift and assemble big parts that are too heavy for people. The automotive industry frequently uses these arms to help assemble cars, for example.
Besides just helping with tasks like heavy lifting or material removal, robotic arms can also make precision tasks more accurate and efficient. The task of welding, for example, is being moved away from human workers and more frequently placed in the steely hands…er claws, of these robots. Increasingly complex robots are currently being designed and implemented in manufacturing, with many companies looking to increase production rates and improve efficiency through mechatronics.
8. BLEXX Exoskeleton
Funded by DARPA, the BLEXX, or Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton, was cooked up in U.C. Berkeley’s Human Engineering and Robotics Laboratory in the year 2000. BLEXX is another example of biomechatronics, acting as a wearable system to increase the lifting capacity of a normal human. It was designed to aid soldiers, first responders, disaster relief workers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel with carrying critical supplies without getting weighed down or exhausted. Berkley writes, “While wearing the exoskeleton, the wearer can carry significant loads over considerable distances without reducing his/her agility, thus significantly increasing his/her physical https://online-essay-help.net effectiveness. In order to address issues of field robustness and reliability, the system is designed such that, should the device lose power (e.g., from fuel exhaustion), the exoskeleton legs can be removed with the machine becoming no more than a standard backpack.”
The BLEXX has a power unit contained in the backpack area to which users can attach, or detach in an emergency, the anthropomorphic legs. While its original purpose was military in nature, the BLEXX has other potential applications including assisting people with lower extremity or spinal injuries with mobility issues.
9. Boston Dynamics Big Dog
The robots coming out of Boston Dynamics right now are straight out of 3020. You’ve probably seen their famous quadropedal robot Spot (see Spot run here!). Before Spot was a twinkle in the Boston Dynamics teams eye, there was project Big Dog. Big Dog was the first robot from Boston Dynamics to have legs. It was a major milestone for their team mechanically and used sensors and a unique control system to navigate rough terrain. Originally designed for military use in 2004, Big Dog was just a little too noisy to make the cut, but fortunately led the team to explore the use of legs in other robotics projects. Like many of the robots on this list, Big Dog was electrically powered, mechanical in nature, and relied on computer programming to complete specific tasks.
10. Tesla’s Autopilot
Many modern cars incorporate IOS or computer technology to help you get around, but nobody does it quite like Tesla. Tesla vehicles are in and of themselves amazing from both an electrical and mechanical engineering stance – we could dedicate a whole article by itself to Tesla’s revolutionary battery technology – but their self-driving technology is also nothing short of cutting edge. It’s hard to describe it any better than Tesla’s Autopilot site, “All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go. If you don’t say anything, the car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination or just home if nothing is on the calendar. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigate urban streets (even without lane markings), manage complex intersections with traffic lights, stop signs and roundabouts, and handle densely packed freeways with cars moving at high speed. When you arrive at your destination, simply step out at the entrance and your car will enter park seek mode, automatically search for a spot and park itself. A tap on your phone summons it back to you.”
Their cars autosteer, navigate traffic amidst the unpredictability of human drivers, and have a feature that allows you to summon the car to you like the tech wizard you are, but self-driving cars don’t just have to be street smart. The computer has to tell them everything from how to move or pump the brake to how much power to use to accelerate to a specific speed. The electrical and mechanical pieces of the Tesla have to constantly communicate and work in conjunction with the car’s computer in order to make the autopilot possible – making Tesla a mechatronics pioneer.
Interested in learning more about Mechatronics? Capitol Technology University currently offers undergraduate programs in mechatronics engineering and mechatronics and robotics engineering technology that are perfect for hands-on students like you.