Montreal, Canada —Heimlich. For most people, the word evokes a life-saving medical maneuver for choking diners, or the hungry cartoon caterpillar in the 1998 animated film "A Bug's Life." But the word may soon earn a third meaning—championship robot.
A dozen undergraduate engineering students at Montreal's Ecole de Technologie Superieure (ETS) are designing a 30-legged robot to regain their title at the Society of Automotive Engineers' (SAE) 15th annual Walking Machine Decathlon™scheduled for 2001. The Canadian school won the 1998 and 1999 contests, but skipped the 2000 version, held in April at Colorado State University.
Eleven colleges entered this year's contest, which featured events like: a 9m sprint; lifting and fetching weights up to 60 kg; a 5-gate slalom race; an obstacle course over car tires; and locating a traffic cone within the 27 sq meter field.
"Yes, it's hard, but for a blind robot, it's very hard," admits ETS team member Michel Gendron. This year, a team from Carnegie Mellon University won, with its robot Jim2 earning nearly three times as many points as the second place team. The rest of the top five included: two entries from Mexico's Bonaterra Universidad, the Canadian school Quebeca Rimouski, and Northern Illinois.
In its quest to win the title back, the ETS team decided to design a completely new entry. Its 1998 and 1999 winner was Hydraumas 3, a six-legged, 180-lb hydraulic machine with strength to lift the full 132 lbs. For 2001, ETS will unveil the 30-legged "Heimlich," an 80-lb electric-powered robot with a payload of just 66 lbs.
The small, fast Heimlich can move more fluidly and precisely than its predecessor, though it carries a smaller load. "It's electric, not hydraulic. It's like comparing a car with a plane; they are two different worlds," Gendron says.
The team's past success has won it sponsorship from major companies, including a computer workstation from Hewlett Packard, tools and hardware from Fabory Metrican Montreal, bushings from igus, and design software from CoCreate and Orcad. The Canadian Space Agency is even a sponsor.
For the past two years, the team has used CoCreate's SolidDesigner 7.0 to draft its robot models. SolidDesigner's "dynamic modeling" allows students to work in a history-free mode, making it easier to be flexible in designs, and to quickly try many ideas, CoCreate says. For the electronics modeling, they supplemented SolidDesigner with Orcad.
"We did all the drawing in 3D," Gendron says. "It's faster than 2D. We only use 2D to import some standard parts like gears. I import only the outside shape, and extrude it into 3D." The final design demands more than 2,000 pieces, including 520 individually machined parts, and 120 different types of parts, including screws, bushings, and gears.
The students teamed by splitting the job into different specialties, even if it meant learning a new discipline. "I'm a mechanical engineer, but I'm also the battery charger," Gendron says. "I'm not supposed to know how to do it, but I learn. It's why the contest is useful, because we touch all departments, and I cannot learn all of this in my courses."
With its slick technology, the robot may someday be used to replace humans during dangerous jobs in nuclear accidents or volcanic exploration, as well as in forestry, vehicles for the handicapped, or land mine clearance.
But first, Heimlich has a date at a track and field meet.