The Glove & The Groundbreaking Robot
What’s the Key to Creating a Groundbreaking Experience?
Grand Valley State University’s Padnos School of Engineering (PSE) was expanding. The new lab facility was to have its ceremonial groundbreaking during the 1999 graduation formalities. In honor of the occasion, PSE envisioned foregoing the traditional gold-plated shovel in favor of technological showmanship. PSE hand-picked myself and two of my fellow graduating classmates to devise a concept and implement it.
The difficult question wasn’t technology. Rather, it was why our concepts felt so flat. Then the eureka moment came. Ceremony is an essential human experience. A Rube Goldberg device initiated by button press misses the mark entirely. We started over, aiming to be human-centered and conceived a hydraulically-powered backhoe robot to be actuated by a Nintendo Power Glove worn by the lead donor.
I designed and assembled the control system, built the hardware interface to the glove, and wrote the software to model the robot’s mechatronics and translate glove motion into robot motion. My partners designed and fabricated the robot itself.
The robot roughly approximated a human arm with a shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand (that is, a digging bucket). While wearing the glove, my software translated the position of the robot’s wrist to match the operator’s wrist movements in free space. Clenching and releasing a fist while wearing the glove controlled the digging action of the robot’s bucket.
The actual groundbreaking moment was a huge success. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of the building’s lead donor scooping a bucket full of earth with the robot while wearing the control glove. The robot is today yet a fixture within the lab building. It has been retrofitted and modified on more than one occasion and has been enjoyed by area elementary schools during introductions to the engineering profession.