Chris Shepherd, you are a Lego god. In his continuing obsession with all things Lego, robotic, and awesome, Shepherd recently constructed the Lego Quad Delta Robot System, a full working model of an industrial robotics line in a factory. The Lego Quad Delta Robot System has four flexing arms that can move in three dimensions, each equipped with a pneumatically driven gripper. Those arms pick up blocks moving on two conveyor belts marked with special light sensors that detect the block's position and color. The system can move 48 of these blocks per minute. Oh, and the whole darn thing, including the impressive support frame, is made out of Lego! This is a Lego NXT project that will amaze your inner engineer. Check it out in the video below. The time and effort that went into making the Lego Quad Robot System has me worried: when is Shepherd finding time to eat and sleep?
This is far from the first Lego robot system created by Shepherd (aka LegoShep aka TheOnlyShep). We took a look at his Lego flexpicker robot some time back, and he regularly pumps out new creations (as you can see on his YouTube channel). However, the Lego Quad Delta Robot System is easily one of his most complex endeavors. Light/color sensors along the conveyor belts detect the location of blocks. This information is then transmitted to the NXT bricks where a decision is made on which arm to use to pick up the detected item. Not only can each arm move in three dimensions to go pick up the continuously moving block, they are smart enough to predict where the block will be and wait for it. When the gripper grabs a block, the arm even moves forward a little to account for the conveyor imposing force during liftoff. This is amateur engineering at its finest, and it's all Lego! (Except for the pneumatic system, but even that is controlled by Lego actuators.) If you want more details, check out Shepherd's discussion of the Lego Quad Delta Robot System on his Tinkernology blog.
Shepherd is just one of many Lego NXT enthusiasts out there. These hobbyists have really pushed the boundaries of what's possible in the medium. In some cases, like the Lego Quad Delta Robot System, or the Cubestormer (which can solve Rubik's cube in mere seconds), I hesitate to use the label 'amateur'. Sure, these devices aren't serving in practical applications, but they are feats of robotics that equal much of the work you'd see in the early stages of someone's professional career. In fact, we've described how some robot programs in universities use Lego NXT to teach their students. The versatility of the Lego NXT materials, and the creativity it inspires in its users, is amazing. As better and cheaper robot development platforms emerge, I hope that some of that creative force is channeled into projects that could help fuel the robotics research world at large. Even if that doesn't happen, however, productions like the Lego NXT should continue to entice more people into the fun and exciting world of amateur robotics. I know that Shepherd built the Lego Quad Delta Robot System so it could disassemble into 8 parts for travel, so look for it at a robotics event near you soon! In fact, Shepherd has told me that come October he'll be bringing his new Lego factory to ABB (makers of the real flexpicker robots). Hmm...maybe I can wrangle an invite. The video of the Lego Quad Delta Robot System is cool, but I'm guessing this thing looks even more mesmerizing in person.
[screen capture and video credit: Chris Shepherd]
[source: Tinkernology, Chris Shepherd]