Minutes 2009 04 24

Question & Answer Session (04-24-2009)

Q: How is this different? I just see it as us building a new robot but putting the same code on it.
Response: Yes, that is in fact one of the goals of the new platform. Part of the design process involves an evolution of the ideas already implemented. It doesn't make sense to take on a whole new scenario -- the tech on the new robot should be an extension of the old ideas. The point of the platform isn't a radical re-start of the project, it's a continuation.

Q: What do you see as the course for this?
Response: For starters we should create a "rocky" course in the lab (roboclub). This should test the vehicles ability to navigate non-level terrain as a third-tier goal. Optionally the platform could then be tested on more demanding terrain and eventually in an outdoor setting.

Q: I don't think you should make a design goal to be able to run outside.
Response: It's not a specific focus at this point. However the design (as currently defined) should be capable of running outside, at least on sidewalks, if the team wants to try it out. The goal is all about exploring new territories, whether that's simple non-level surfaces in the club or navigating across campus.

Q: Where is the charging port going to be located?
Response: Unless there's a specific reason to do otherwise, the charging port would remain in the rear. We've been working on a design (different from the current setup) that uses a mechanical "corral" to guide the robot toward the charging port.

Q: Couldn't you use some sort of cord or connector like the magsafe on Macbooks?
Response: In fact, I do want to use permanent magnets as part of the charging base interface. A cord or boom is somewhat difficult as you still need actuators to position it. For now I'd say it's a much safer bet to have a mechanically constrained charging port.

Q: Will there be GPS onboard?
Response: That would be too expensive to implement on each robot. However, my idea is to put a GPS module on the Colony carrier -- since each robot can localize based on that reference point, you still have absolute positioning (relative to an absolute point).

Q: Will the design be modular? What if I want to put big wheels on it or an arm to manipulate the environment? We want to start "doing stuff" with the robots, not just passively exploring.
Response: The design as is wouldn't be modular because it's too expensive. There has been talk of making an attachment point on the robot analogous to a power takeoff on a tractor. In the future Colony members could design implements that attach to the interface such as an arm, or other manipulator.

Q: How will the platform perform? What are the limitations on terrain complexity?
Response: I can run some numbers, but most of this will be determined empirically (with prototype testing).

Q: You said the robot was designed to have a similar form factor as the existing robots. If we're trying to explore tough terrain, it might be good to look at making the robots bigger. i.e. don't limit yourself based on the current design.
Response: That's a good point, but with a bigger robot comes a bigger price tag. It also takes more energy to move a larger mass, so the small robot is actually a really great size. The robot is currently sized for the motors we're using. Changing that balance could negate some of the benefits of these motors.