ORLANDO, FL – An air-hockey-playing robot is turning out to be the hit of the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) here this week.
The robot, built by engineers from Nuvation Engineering, combines machine vision with a Freescale 32-bit ColdFire processor to enable it to play a fast-paced game of air hockey. The robot drew hundreds of engineers to the Nuvation booth to try their hands at defeating it.
Freescale contracted with Nuvation to build the robot as a means of drawing attention to its Flexis line of microcontrollers, which offer software compatibility between eight- and 32-bit devices. The robot is designed so it can be controlled by Freescale’s S08 eight-bit controller or by its 32-bit ColdFire device.
“There’s a tenfold performance difference between them, but it’s the same board design, same tools and same peripherals,” said Jeff Bock, global product marketing manager for Freescale’s consumer and industrial microcontrollers.
Nuvation engineers say the 32-bit processor is the key to enabling the robot to play the game. The robot uses the machine-vision system to determine the x and y positions of the puck and then calls on the microprocessor to calculate a motion vector that tells it where the puck is going. By communicating with a motor controller, the processor can then “tell” the robot how to position its arm to block an oncoming shot.
“Based on the speed of the game, it’s not enough to know where the puck is,” said Nuvation CEO Michael Worry. “The robot has to know where the puck is going to be.”
To demonstrate the difference between the 32-bit ColdFire microprocessor and an eight-bit controller, Nuvation engineers built a printed circuit board containing both processors. A toggle switch on the board enables users to play either processor.
Engineers say the eight-bit controller is noticeably slower, especially at calculating the motion vector. The slower calculation made it easier for show attendees to beat the eight-bit controller.
“This gives you a very visual representation of what it’s like to run a system on an eight-bit processor and a 32-bit processor,” Worry said.
Nuvation engineers said they were approached by Freescale Semiconductor because the company has experience in board design, embedded software development and robotic design.
“Everyone told us it couldn’t be done, but we did it in two months,” Worry said.