As EDSS student Isaac Frank types in a few commands into the school’s laptop a large orange arm with a mechanical pincher begins to move. Below the arm a conveyor belt turns on as three square objects – one made of wood, one small and metal and one large and metal – head towards a group of sensors. Those sensors indicate what type of object is in front of the arm as it picks each one up and individually sorts them into the proper bins. This pick-and-place robot has been Frank’s and classmates Lewis Hahn’s project for the last seven months, part of their Grade 12 automation electrical class in which they’ve built the robotic arm from the ground up.
“Over the years we have had students build mechanical pop machines, bowling alley sorting machines, and this year the guys built a robotic arm,” said teacher Ron Fletcher. “It was an old robot we had and the guys basically ripped the brains out of it and started from scratch.”
The two students designed and completed the frame and inner workings of the robot while they programmed the arm with hundreds of calculations, allowing it to sense what it was picking up and where it should deposit it.
“They had to design, build and decipher all the motors, inputs and outputs for this robot to work,” said Fletcher. “(Frank) has been here more than anyone else working on this project coming in on snow days, during exams and staying late after school to complete the project.”
Frank said the programming of the robot was harder to complete than the construction.
“There are a lot of little things that take a lot of time to figure out when you are programming,” said Frank. “It is pretty complicated work, but it is just the beginning.”
After each task the robotic arm returns to a home position waiting for the sensors to relay more information. The robot was built with a safety system including an emergency stop and a light fence. The students also built a manual control for the arm and plan to take the robot to the Skills Canada contest in May.
“We like to display these things so that other schools can see what our students are capable of doing,” said Fletcher. “We still have some work to do on the project and some of the bells and whistles still have to go on.”
All the material used to build the robot was donated by Rockwell Automation based in Cambridge.
“We are very pleased that Rockwell has helped out our students for the last few years and they have really helped keep this program running at the level it is at,” said Fletcher. Frank, who is a fifth year student at EDSS, hopes to attend the University of Waterloo in the fall to study electrical engineering.