With Quipt Software, Robots can be Programmed without Coding Knowledge

With Quipt Software, Robots can be Programmed without Coding Knowledge

Mar 2, 2016 @ 17:20

Madeline Gannon, a Ph.D. candidate in Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, has invented new method to interact and program the robot. Gannon designed an open-source software, Quipt that turns a human’s motions into instructions for a robot.

With Quipt, now programming of robots is not just for those with years of coding knowledge, it’s for anyone who wants to experience what it’s like to simply wave at a robot and have it wave back.

Quipt is a gesture-based control software that facilitates new, more intuitive ways to communicate with industrial robots. Using wearable markers and a motion capture system, Quipt gives industrial robots basic spatial behaviors for interacting closely with people. Wearable markers on the hand, around the neck, or elsewhere on the body let a robot see and respond to you in a shared space. This lets you and the robot safely follow, mirror, and avoid one another as you collaborate together.

“I wanted to invent better ways to talk with machines who can make things. Industrial robots are some of the most adaptable and useful to do that,” she said.

But they are also some of the most dangerous. The U.S. Department of Labor has a special website devoted to “Industrial Robots and Robot System Safety.” These robots are big, and they have to be programmed by people with years of training.

The programming takes place “basically with a joystick” according to Gannon. Programmers move the robot to a place, record a point and iteratively build up a motion path for the robots to remember.

“Then the robot will repeat that task 24/7. That is their world,” Gannon said.

But not anymore. Quipt replaces the joystick technique. Its software stitches together the robot with a motion capture system, which are cameras that look into a space and let the robot see where it is.

“I gave this robot — this big, powerful dumb robot — eyes into the environment,” Gannon said.

When the robot looks with its motion-capture eyes, it sees tracking markers on a person’s hand or clothes. Now it can track a person while remaining a certain distance away, it can mirror a movement, or it can be told to avoid markers.

Which means that potentially these robots are a lot safer — and a lot smarter. Gannon imagines a world where they aren’t just welding parts on an assembly line.

“I think what’s really exciting is taking these machines off of control settings and taking them into live environments, like classrooms or construction sites,” Gannon said.

Gannon collaborated with visiting artist Addie Wagenknecht and the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry to develop a robot that could rock a baby’s cradle according to the sound of the baby’s cry.

This software is a cousin to another of Gannon’s projects that makes technology more hands-on — last year Gannon released Tactum, which takes the software guesswork out of 3-D printing. In fact, Tactum projects an image directly on your body, and with your own hands you can manipulate the image to make it fit or look exactly how you like. Together with a projector, which produces the image on your skin, and a sensor, which can detect your skin and how you’re touching it, the software updates the 3-D model that you’re creating. When you’re ready to print, you just simply close your hand and your design goes to the 3-D printer.

Gannon was drawn to CMU’s College of Fine Arts when the School of Architecture added new fabrication equipment.

“I felt like I had the keys to the candy shop,” she said.

“My research is really playing in the field of computer science and robotics, but the questions I’m able to ask those specific domains is conditioned by my architectural background. It’s really a spatial answer, how to control or interact with a robot. That, in my mind, is an architectural answer to this problem,” she said.

Golan Levin, director of the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at CMU, is one of Gannon’s doctoral thesis advisors. He thinks her work could change how people design architecture, clothing and furniture, as well as influence industrial design and the arts.

“Madeline is remarkable for the way in which she brings together an acutely sensitive design intuition with a muscular ability to develop high-performance software,” Levin said. “The kind of work she is doing could not be achieved by a collaboration between a designer and engineer; it takes a single person with a unified understanding of both.”


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