Engineers have Robocop entertaining again

By John McDonald

Two words that seem to go together like bread and butter are engineers and robots. This stereotype has been reinforced this year at the Schulich School of Engineering. A team of four electrical and computer engineers repaired a robot for the Calgary Police Interpretive Centre.

As part of their degree, all engineering students must complete a design project in their fourth year. This year, a team fixed ANDROS, a bomb-disposal robot donated to the Calgary Police Interpretive Centre collection after the robot was decommissioned in 1997.

“We had it in our collection and we thought it would be interesting to have it actually functioning again so that we could demonstrate to youth visitors how police might use a bomb robot in their work,” said Calgary Police Interpretive Centre YouthLink administrator Gail Niinimaa. “We had a discussion with Dr. Alex Ramirez-Serrano, the project supervisor, to see if we could have it fixed at the university as a student project.”

Fourth-year electrical engineering student Jeff Wai was working on the project.

“There were a variety of projects to choose from, including some that had to do with signals, transmitters and receivers,” said Wai. “The robotics one seemed to be really interesting. It involved aspects of hardware and software.”

ANDROS robots are designed to master rough terrain and have two arms: one for a camera and one to disarm the bomb.

“We needed them to develop an interface that would be more user-friendly,” said Niinimaa. “They implemented a gaming joystick into the design so that potentially someone that doesn’t know how to operate a bomb robot could figure it out by using the simple gaming joystick.” The Interpretive Centre was hoping the more versatile controller design would allow volunteers to show children how the robot functions.

“The most interesting part of the project was the reverse-engineering of the robot,” said Wai. “When we first received the robot, we knew nothing about it. We needed to do an analysis on the robot to understand how it worked and how we could fix it.”

Wai attributes the success of the design project to the concepts learned in class such as circuit design, programming and power supplies, which were required for his electrical engineering degree.

Niinimaa explained the centre has been open for 12 years and exhibits are currently going through construction. The robot will stay in storage until the upgrades are complete.

“[We want to] give the message how to be safe in the community [and raise awareness about] drugs, bullying and domestic abuse,” explained Niinimaa. “We want to show how police work is important and generate interest. Our mandate and mission is to educate youth on the consequence of crime and poor lifestyle choices and the ANDROS robot will help us capture their interest.”

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