Mechatronics Engineering robots, machines and products and as designed and built by Frank and his students using a range of materials for the mechanical structure including low cost Cardboard Prototype Manufacturing. The cardboard robots are built using 1.5mm thick cardboard and just need cutting board, knife, rule and glue together with a precision eye for detail; no need for 3d printing, it’s too slow

Engineering undergraduate students experimenting with paddle boat robots made from cardboard
Experimental skinny legged in-line leg hexapod with small servos
Frank designs robots then design courses to teach students how to design robots. Here is Frank and his students assembling aluminium parts of a 3-wheeled robot that the students made in the workshop one week before
…and here are the students doing programming and tests on the bench helped by my Taiwan colleague, Sean, who has a sense of humour
More to come
More to come
Compact hexapod with batteries inside the tubular body and range finder infra red whisker sensors
Student project, Boby, Arland and Frank designed a first sight augmented reality hexapod gladiator sparring scenario. A bad guy robot comes to town saying he has waited long enough and takes a potshot at the central business district tower seen falling down and crashing. The good robot on the right starts taking potshots at the bad guy robot with recoil, lights and sound. Eventually the bad guy robot receives 7 potshots and demises painfully then the good guy does a victory lap saying “d..th has many doors”..
Hexapod programmed to do inside epicyclic gear action. Imagine running a penny on the inside of your thumb and forefinger whose tips are touching forming a circle The penny is the robot
Jumbo sized kinda Rubik Cube, but not really, fun project to use computer vision to place a coloured cube into place with all sides of Jumbo cube to have same colour. Each cube has a different colour on each of its six sides. The fork lift truck robot was a whole lot of fun building too
Ping pong ball hitter with 10-ball magazine. Two out-of-phase driven servos are used to serve the ball into the tee. Only 6 balls basketed out of 10. Students have to figure out reasons for repeatability errors
An experiment with a straight line pull back mechanism for a ping pong ball catapult robot…too complicated so abandoned in favour of simplified mechanism 


Some Featured Projects

UNNC Mars Rover Project; an omni-directional wheeled robot
Basic Ping Pong Ball Catapult Robot
Precision Ping Pong ball Hitter Robot viewed from the top of its 10-ball magazine autoloader
Ping Pong Ball Hitter
Design model of Eagle Bird Robot main wing
Ping pong ball Thrower Robot. Rotating arm holding ball in a gripper that lets go at the precise angle to put the ball in the basket



Latest Hexapod

Great care has been taken with this latest design. For example, (i) 60 ball bearing races are used for the leg and tendon joints to give low friction, long life, extremely low maintenance and high repeatability, (ii) legs have low weight, high stiffness and low polar moment of inertia brought about by careful design, CNC precision machining, and use of aluminium alloy, Delrin plastic and carbon fibre materials.

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Featured Research Project Artificial muscle

Artificial muscle prototype. This version has been superseded by much higher performance version that has a pulling force of 1000 Newtons. This version shows the principle which is the subject of an awarded USA patent May 2017
Artificial muscle oscillating at 1.5Hz Latest version oscillates at 10Hz



Physical Computing

3dof leg in realtime demonstration
Robot Eagle Bird Tail demonstrating flight control motions



About Frank

This is Frank programming a CNC milling machine
A CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machine, is a high precision machine that you program to cut material, e.g. plastic, aluminium, into almost any shape you can imagine. The machine is a “subtractive” machine, i.e. it removes unwanted material from a block, as compared to an “additive machine”, e.g. a 3-d printer, that starts by building up a shape from nothing by adding tiny amounts of material to itself like bees when they build their hive. Both machines have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Dr. Francis Frank Nickols is an Associate Professor of Mechatronics and Control Engineering at University of Nottingham Ningbo China, UNNC. This is a British University in China, Zhejiang Province, city of Ningbo which is south of Shanghai on the eastern seaboard of China. Ningbo is a pleasant city with parks and canals everywhere and many people, including Frank, whizzing around on electric bikes. He was educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge University U.K. where he received a Bachelor degree in Engineering Science in 1978. Later he received a Masters degree in Electronic Systems Design from Cranfield University, U.K. and a Ph.D. degree in Mechatronics from University of Wales, College of Cardiff, U.K.

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