Automated Manufacturing Lab
How do we provide students distance learning — with big expensive real-world equipment?
Grand Valley State University’s Padnos School of Engineering (PSE) requires a three semester co-op as part of its Bachelor of Science in Engineering program. Rather than work in industry, I elected to take on a development project with Dr. Hugh Jack from 1997 to 1998. Dr. Jack’s area of expertise is control systems, and he taught several classes involving advanced manufacturing technology. We envisioned a lab environment of industrial robots and other equipment that would allow students to complete projects safely and without time or resource constraints — all over the web.
Ultimately, the browser-based workflow I developed allowed multiple users to simultaneously develop and verify control programs with virtual instruments and then submit and view the results of their programming on the actual hardware across the web. I designed and assembled the lab from scratch. The primary equipment of the lab consisted of several servers, two robots, and a motion control video camera.
I completed the camera motion control base, set up the streaming video server, and implemented a server-side process and Java applet for web-based control of the camera.
I created VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) in-browser versions of the two robots within the lab. I also created accompanying Java applets that allowed browser-based control of the VRML models for a handful of different user contexts.
I developed server-side processes that managed sharing of the robot hardware among users, parsed and verified robot control programs, directed command sequences to the robots, and managed browser-based simulations of the VRML robots running control programs.
I was awarded a Fellowship by the Michigan Space Grant Consortium. In addition, Dr. Jack and I published three papers.