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Society Spotlight: UBRobotics

The University of Birmingham Robotics Club (UBRobotics) is just celebrating its second birthday. The club provides the opportunity for students from the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences to learn more about robotics, electronics and programming, and gives its members the chance to experience lots of varied robotics activities.

This year the club was kindly invited to participate in the work now being conducted with new industrial robot arms, recently installed in the School of Engineering Robotics Laboratory. Two of the four arms installed are cutting-edge 7-axis collaborative robot arms from KUKA, a leading manufacturer. These valuable robots have great flexibility and can carry up to 14kg of weight. Some of the sophisticated features that they include are torque sensors on all joints, and the ability to work alongside a human operator, in a collaborative manner. Previous generations of industrial robots have always been contained within sturdy safety screens, as they move with great speed and power and could easily cause injury. Collaborative robot arms are designed to be sensitive to external forces and this, when coupled with other more sophisticated sensors and control systems, allows the robot to function alongside a human in total safety.

Club members have assisted other students in configuring and testing the new robots. Much of this time has been spent learning how to operate and program with the KUKA ‘Sunrise’ control cabinet and operating software. The arms will ultimately be used in major research projects and, as part of demonstrative labs for undergraduate students. We are grateful to have been given the chance to contribute to the robotics work in the School.

Previously, the club has been heavily involved in the ‘Eurobot’ robotics competition. This international competition attracts hundreds of competitors from universities across the world. Last year the UBRobotics team were proud to take 3rd place in the United Kingdom, and to attend the International Finals in Paris, an exciting experience, and our first taste of international competition. The students who played a part in this project gained an excellent appreciation of many skills including project management and had a fantastic time in Paris, representing the University and meeting many enthusiastic people from many other countries. Technology that the club has applied to Eurobot includes Arduino microcontrollers, ultrasound and infrared for object detection, colour sensing, optical flow sensors, Raspberry Pi, servo and stepper motors, and motors with rotary encoders.

This academic year the club has also run weekly tutorials for new members. Covering topics ranging from Arduino programming to amateur electronics, these have been well received and it is hoped that they will ensure that skills and knowledge are transferred from the more experienced students to the newcomers, and help the club to develop. The establishment of a club workshop room in the School of Engineering was another major step forwards. Equipped with two 3D printers, two PCs, a workbench and many tools, it has become the home of the club, and has already proven to be of great utility. 3D printing has been a major interest of our members, and we have experimented extensively with this remarkable technology.

UBRobotics is very grateful to the support we receive from the School of Engineering staff, in terms of encouragement, interest, and financial help. Thank you also to the Alumni Hands Up Fund, which has generously donated to the club this year and last. If you are interested in joining the club, or learning more about what we do, please have a look at our Facebook group, and come along to one of our meetings, we look forward to meeting you.

From Issue 13

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