Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Hexapods: Micro-precision Surgical Assistant for Minimal Invasive Surgery

October 19, 2011 2 comments

Minimal Invasive Surgery or (MIS) is one such important innovation in medical devices to present. There are many benefits that can be derived from a MIS procedure such as: smaller incision, smaller scar, reduced risk of infection and bleeding, less pain and trauma, and decreased length of hospital stay for recovery time.

The product shown below is called Spine Assist. It is an example of a minimal invasive surgical device designed for spine-related surgery.

“With the SpineAssist a spinal fusion intervention can be performed with only a couple small incisions compared to open surgery where a large incision potentially causes more muscle damage. The miniature size of the robot with no need for “line of sight” and its high accuracy simplifies the surgical procedure and minimizes the risk for screw misplacement. Since the robot is rigidly attached to the patient there is no need for a tracking coordinate system. The procedure using the SpineAssist only requires a few fluoroscopic images, adding reduced radiation exposure for the surgeon and the patient as an important benefit to the system.” -Faulhaber Miniature Hexapods


The software interface shown above provides the surgeon with pre-surgical planning with automatic fluoroscopic and CT image processing. Intervention, according to the Faulhaber website, using the SpineAssist consists of five steps namely: preoperative planning based on a CT scan of the patient’s spine; rigid fixation of the SpineAssist platform to the patient’s spine; positioning calibration by matching a fluoroscopic image of the bone mounted platform to the CT-image from the preoperative plan; rigid mounting of the SpineAssist robot to the platform; the robot guide arm is now ready to automatically position itself at the exact location according to the preoperative plan and serve as a guiding tool when the surgeon drills or performs some other intervention on the bone.


The image above shows a mounted SpineAssist platform during a surgical procedure. To present, this system has been used over 250 cases in hospitals all over the world. What robots can do… 😀


Fit PC: The Hand-sized Desktop PC for Embedded Robotics

October 13, 2011 Leave a comment

From Raspeberry Pi to Chip PC and now Fit PC. Yes, it’s another tiny, hand-sized desktop computer. This thing boasts its green design as well at 7-Watts average power consumption, which is twice the greener Chip PC. It’s not as small and gamer friendly (remember the Quake 3 demo) as the Raspberry Pi but it can do things like controlling a hexapod. It’s the black box taped at the rear of the robot…cool!

There are several models of the Fit PC. There’s one that runs 2-GHz, 2-GB RAM, 250-GB hard disk and pre-loaded with Windows 7 Pro. And there’s a stripped down version named, Fit PC Value running 1.1-GHz, 1-GB RAM, attach your own hard disk and install your own OS. The downside is that the price ranges from US$279 to US$707 with the Value being the cheapest and the Win7 Pro as the most expensive. This one costs like a normal PC just made smaller to fit in the hood of a robot much like a beagle board. The difference though is that it’s a stand-alone personal computer when the robot demo is all over. 😀

Hmm, still haven’t blogged on the plug computers so that’s on the list and then we’ll check the Android SDK for robotics support too. Soon we’ll be able to study which platform is best for what application. That’s where we’re heading.

Chip PC’s 3 Watt Green Palm Sized Desktop Computer

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment

From Raspberry Pi to Chip PC, we look into yet another tiny PC of the size of an adult person’s palm. Chip PC’s selling point is not just its sheer compact size but more so its green design. Chip PC offers the world’s lowest power consumption desktop models, with an average power consumption of 3.5W at full working mode. This figure makes 40 Chip PCs running at maximum power for example AutoCAD equivalent to a typical desktop running at average power consumption of 150W. Chip PC thin clients are  the world’s lowest energy consumption computers by far.

The downside is price. The Chip PC costs around US$150 to US$350 depending on the model. There are currently four models as shown in the image below.

Chip PC

From left to right: Jack PC, Xtreme PC, Plug PC, EX-PC

These tiny computers can run Linux, Windows CE Embedded, Windows Embedded Standard 2009 or Windows Embedded Standard 7.

Raspeberry Pi, a $25 PC on a Stick

Yes, it’s a PC on a stick and is targeted to sell at $25 each. So all you need to complete the PC setup are the keyboard, mouse, monitor and dc power. And you’re ready to go! The Raspberry Pi is an ARM 11-based all-in computer that has a rich peripheral interface suite in a board slightly bigger than a credit card.

Raspberry Pi Alpha Board

This is the Alpha release. The target size for this board is the size of a credit card. So it’s quite a competitor for the Plug computers. Plug computers will get their turn in my next posts. For now, this Raspberry Pi is really easy to run and the peripherals easy to setup according to Alpha testers. And finally, It’s running Linux and is actually quite powerful – look their playing Quake 3 on it! 😀

Microchip Joins Arduino’s Bandwagon: Welcome chipKIT MAX32

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Microchip is very much into the fast prototyping ball game. In fact, years earlier than the introduction of the Arduino prototyping boards, Microchip’s PIC line of microcontrollers had already established its own prototyping setup. If Arduino had its Arduino IDE, PIC had MPLAB years back. However, Arduino’s magic comes from the opensource community that gave birth to Arduino-based hardware and software libraries development. Naturally as signaled by the two Arduino-compatible boards with 32-bit PICs, Microchip wants in.

Figure 1.0. Microchip’s chipKIT MAX32

Figure 1.1. Microchip’s chipKIT UNO32

To make it Arduino compatible, they edited the Arduino IDE, which now supports these two new Arduinos as well as backwards compatible with all other Arduinos. The chipKIT Arduinos are tested to run properly with the example codes available with the IDE.

Now to the tech specs:

1) For the MAX32

  • Microchip® PIC32MX795F512 processor
    • 80 Mhz 32-bit MIPS
    • 512K Flash, 128K RAM
    • USB 2.0 OTG controller
    • 10/100 Ethernet MAC
    • Dual CAN controllers
  • Provides additional memory and advanced communications peripherals
  • Compatible with Arduino IDE and libraries
  • Can also be programmed using Microchip’s MPLAB (along with a PICkit 3 or 6-pin header)
  • Arduino Mega form factor
  • Compatible with Arduino shields
  • 83 available I/O
  • User LED

2) And the UNO32

  • Microchip® PIC32MX320F128 processor
    • 80 Mhz 32-bit MIPS
    • 128K Flash, 16K SRAM
  • Compatible with existing Arduino™ code examples, reference materials and other resources
  • Can also be programmed using Microchip’s MPLAB® IDE (along with a PICkit 3 and our PICkit3 Programming Cable Kit, seen below)
  • Arduino™ “Uno” form factor
  • Compatible with Arduino™ shields
  • 42 available I/O
  • User LED
  • Connects to a PC using a USB A -> mini B cable (not included)

This is something worth looking into as well considering 32-bit microcontrollers at 80 MHz coming at US$50 for the MAX32 and US$27 for the UNO32, which is the same range for the 16 MHz, 8-bit for the Arduino MEGA and UNO respectively. Looks like a winner if it’s a complete Arduino. Let’s see how the Due will be introduced into the game later this year: Arduino IDE or Linux or RTOS? One thing’s for sure, rapid prototyping with higher processing power is becoming a common commodity with these new boards.

I’d better get my hands on these boards soon. 😀

Arduino goes ARM

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

A new member will be added to the roster of Arduino boards this year. This time it’s their biggest brother ever and it’s based on ARM Cortex M3 and two others in the same line, the Leonardo and the Wifi.

Arduino Due

The Arduino Due is running on the Atmega SAM3u 32-bit ARM-based microcontroller clocked up to 96 MHz. It has 256 KB of flash memory and 50 KB of RAM (SRAM, to be precise), five SPI buses, two I2C interfaces, five serial ports, 16 12-bit analog inputs and lots more. The downside though goes with the 3.3-volts that powers the Due. This deviates from already existing 5-volt shields.

Quoting the Arduino blog:

“Instead of just releasing the finished platform we are opening the process to the community early on. We’re going to be demoing the board and be giving away some boards to a select group of developers who will be invited to shape the platform while it’s being created. After Maker Faire, we will begin selling a small batch of Developer Edition boards on the Arduino store (store.arduino,cc) for members of the community who want to join the development effort. We plan a final and tested release by the end of 2011.”

There remains room for the question on running Linux on the ARM-based Arduino since that is the case for example with the Beagleboard. Will there be another IDE like tool chain, etc.? A newer platform that rivals with the upcoming Due is the Raspberry Pi, which definitely runs Linux on its ARM-based design.

As for the Leonardo, this is said to be a lightweight, low-cost version of the Uno. And the Wifi is just an opensource version of existing Wifi shields. It will be the mother of all existing Wifi shields in terms of backwards compatibility.

So I followed the line

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s always good to see state-of-the-art related work prior to building something. Although the line-follower is a remake project, I don’t want to just redo all the work I did before without peaking into what roboteers 7 years later have done. There are lot’s out there but I chose one really cool video an yet to be tuned PID-based design.

This is a really compact design with front and rear sensors. What’s interesting is the dual drive motor design it has. Oh, and it’s motor chassis is CNC milled custom.

Of course, at the end of the day what I am thinking of is what kind of application will be suitable for such a line sensitive robot. It seems to me that this thing can be used as an automated floor cleaner or wax applier or vacuum cleaner that can easily be incorporated into floor patterns say in restaurants, theme parks and yes even malls. The fact that customers see robots cleaning up the place makes the place an attraction. Maybe more later.