Building an Autonomous NI ARC Robot Using NI CompactRIO, an NI Smart Camera, and NI LabVIEW

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"We used National Instruments software and hardware to successfully develop an autonomous robot that meets the requirements of the NI ARC challenge in less than six months with the part-time efforts of six university students."

- David Budden, University of Newcastle

The Challenge:
Developing a fully autonomous wheeled robot to navigate a course of randomly placed obstacles, retrieve a pair of colored cubes, and return the cubes to appropriate zones.

The Solution:
Using NI CompactRIO, an NI 1772C Smart Camera, and NI LabVIEW to create a robot with vision, locomotion, and a functional robotic arm.

Author(s):
David Budden - University of Newcastle
Jeff Evans - University of Newcastle
Shannon Fenn - University of Newcastle
Guopeng Leng - University of Newcastle
Cameron Owen - University of Newcastle
Michael Tonon - University of Newcastle
Lijun Zhu - University of Newcastle

We are a team of six undergraduates and one PhD engineering student under the supervision of Peter Turner. We developed a fully autonomous wheeled robot for the National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition (ARC). The robot must navigate a course of randomly placed obstacles to retrieve a pair of colored cubes and return the cubes to designated zones—an elevated helipad for one cube and the home zone for the other.

Although a straightforward task, the NI ARC addresses several low-level issues required for the future development of practical emergency rescue robots, such as autonomously navigating unknown areas (potentially caused by building collapse, for example) and visually recognizing and retrieving/rescuing victims (represented in NI ARC by uniquely colored cubes, among a number of grey cubes).

System Overview

This competition required that we use NI CompactRIO for the majority of processing. However, we did not have restrictions on the use of other NI devices, so we chose the NI 1772C Smart Camera to remove the computational load of vision processing. The combination of NI equipment and sensors from other sources (infrared distance sensors and colour sensors) resulted in a robot that effectively and efficiently processes its surroundings to complete the required task (see Figure 1).

We developed 100 percent of the code for our robot with NI LabVIEW software, incorporating frequent use of the LabVIEW Real-Time Module and Vision Development Module. The resulting combination of NI software and hardware gave us the following advantages:

  • Intuitive integration of hardware components (particularly sensory data acquisition for both analog and digital sensors)
  • Rapid combination of high-level vision modules for effortless development and deployment of complex machine vision algorithms
  • Easy code development at an abstract level without the need to consider low-level memory management of communication protocol issues
  • Rapid generation of appropriate user interfaces

Fast Development, Easy Programming

We used National Instruments software and hardware to successfully develop an autonomous robot that meets the requirements of the NI ARC in less than six months with the part-time efforts of six university students. We do not believe we could have accomplished this task with the low-level programming of traditional microcontrollers or IP webcams. The process was facilitated by the invaluable assistance of NI staff members, who were always fast and friendly in their replies to inquiries regarding either NI ARC task clarifications or the correct use of NI products.

See Our Robot in Action:

 

Author Information:
David Budden
University of Newcastle
david.budden@uon.edu.au

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