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.

Dr. Francis Frank Nickols is an Associate Professor of Mechatronics and Control Engineering at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China . He was previously an Associate Professor at the  School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in Nanyang Technological University also Associate Professor at the University of Brunei Darussalam . Also he has held posts in Hong Kong long time back as Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow.
Frank 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. in 1982 and a Ph.D. degree in Mechatronics at Cardiff, University, U.K, in 1991. He has many years of experience as a practising R&D engineer and engineering product designer in U.K. industry, e.g. Renishaw. which is a world leader in high precision, high quality metrology products. He has researched designed and built (i) electromagnetic flowmeters with Danfoss Flowmetering (now Siemens) plus many other innovative manufacturing processes and test equipment, (ii) an inductive displacement sensor for measuring the advance fuel injection cam angle for the world’s first automotive diesel engine microcomputer controlled electronic fuel injection pump with Lucas Microelectronic Control Systems (Lucas MICOS) (now TRW), (iii) a CNC machine tool retrofittable boring head with sub-micron resolution and a laser beam expander and integrated demodulator with Renishaw Research, and (iv) tobacco leaf processing and instrumentation mechatronic machines with AMF Legg. He also was a “High Potential Truck Engineering Graduate” working as a truck mechanical engineer with the Ford Motor Company at Dunton and Basildon, UK, where he worked on diesel engines and developed a low cost accurate method for computing vehicle coefficient of drag using a polynomial-fit technique. Frank also has experience as an aviation electronics avionics diagnostician of the Buccaneer fighter bomber aeroplane on-board weapon delivery system, inertial navigation system and radar system. This weapon delivery system was a very clever multi-variable realtime all-analogue servomechanism computer that computed inputs from the inertial measurement unit, true airspeed, drift angle, radio altimeter, vertical accelerometer, radio range, target speed and heading then as the pilot pulled up at 7degrees /sec using a head-up display at 6km from a target, the computer with the servomechanisms whirring in real-time, computed the correct aircraft flight path angle with respect to the horizontal, to release the weapon such that it would be thrown accurately for 6km under free-flight conditions to eliminate the target. Today of course we have digital computers and smart GPS-guided weapons.

In academia he followed his passion for researching, designing and building engineering products by building amongst other things, a 0.1% precision calibration water flow rig of 1.8 tonnes capacity together with impeller turbine flowmeters; then later designed autonomous real time controlled bench top sized land-based and under water-based walking and wheeled robots as a specially designed educational system, Frank tailor-makes these products in order to teach students about the business of engineering product design and research.

Now Frank is developing a new species of artificial muscle that will enable a new genre of dynamic agile animal robots. This genre will be enabled by a sliding force mechanism that mimics the sliding filament model of skeletal muscle.

Summary of Frank’s Latest Projects and Products

1. Sliding Force Mechanism for Dynamic Agile Animal Robots. This is a totally new type of artificial muscle that emulates real skeletal muscle. This muscle will enable an exciting new genre of animal robots that can run like Usain Bolt or chase like a Cheetah or fly, swoop and hover like an eagle. Currently under construction is an artificial pectoralis muscle for the eagle bird robot. This artificial muscle will weigh 2kg, will produce a force of 1000N at 150mm peak to peak  amplitude at 4Hz. Later the weight will be reduced to 1kg by using improved materials.

2. Eagle Bird Robot with 2.4metre wingspan with shoulder flapping, wrist bending wing action and 24 feathers per wing and 12 feathers for the tail.

3. Swarm behaviour hexapod robots using the newest version of hexapod with stiffer, lighter, stronger, legs. This high specification robot has been designed by Frank, then stored in virtual format using AutoDesk Inventor software and finally manufactured on precision CNC machines using aircraft grade aluminium alloy and Delrin plastic. The robot is designed to a professional standard and is highly reliable with low maintenance ball bearing races (total of 60) for the leg joints. Watch the Movieclip below:

Click here to find out the Objectives>>

The hexapod is aimed to be new and different since many people are now building hexapods. It is different due to its well thought out design and its precision construction but this alone does not set the hexapod apart from the rest. What does make this Hexapod special is the set of five tutorial workbooks and build-up robots (see photo) that teach the design and mathematics of autonomous robots starting from the basic “Electromagnetic Motor Servomechanism” (workbook 1), then to the “Push-rod Tricycle” (workbook 2), then the “3 Degree-of-Freedom Actuating Tool/Robot Leg” (workbook 3), then the “Chariot Robot” (workbook 4) and finally to the “hexapod Robot” (workbook 5). These tutorials provide a 3 semester hands-on training course for university and college science students (e.g. engineering, computing, applied physics students) that educates students from basic electromagnetic servomechanisms right up to a walking hexapod with sensors. What makes these workbooks special is (i) the effort that has been taken by Frank in making all the mathematical concepts straightforward and (ii) the effort taken in creating illustrations that clarify ideas. In fact the tutorials can be used from A-level school kids right up to challenging Master’s postgraduate level.

Some Publications going back 10 years
1. Singapore patent no.190737 granted 29 May 2014, Artificial Muscle, “Apparatus and an assembly for emulating an impulse force exerted by skeletal muscle”; filed Jan 2012, priority date 21Jan 2011. Inventor F. Nickols, owner Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. http://www.google.com/patents/WO2012099543A1?cl=en

2. “Method for determining the radius described by a tool”. F. Nickols. US patent no 5,035,554

Book chapters and guest editor
1. F. Nickols, book chapter, “Sliding Friction Mechanism for enabling Dynamic Agile Animal Robots”, Biomimetic Technologies, pp199 to 224. Elsevier Press, edited by Ngo Trung Dung, Published June 2015.

2. F. Nickols, book chapter, “Sliding Friction Mechanism (SFM) that mimics the Sliding Filament Model of skeletal muscle”, pp 264 to 273, Proc. of the 3rd IFTOMM Intl. Symp.on Robotics and Mechatronics ISRM 2013.

3. F. Nickols, Co-guest editor of special issue 2011, “Sensors”-open-access journal for topic: Biomimetic Sensors, Actuators, and Integrated Systems; click on: http://www.mdpi.com/journal/sensors/special_issues/biomim_sens_actuat/

4. F. Nickols, “Emergent Behaviour Real-time Programming of a Six-Legged Omni-Directional Mobile Robot: Planning of Viennese Waltz Behaviour, part2”, Mechatronics and Machine Vision in Practice, published 2006, Springer Press. Editors: Billingsley, John; Bradbeer, Robin.

Academic Journal papers, conference papers and Industry R&D project reports
1. F. Nickols, “A Tabular Format for Computing Inverse Kinematic Equations for a 3DOF robot leg”, International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems, Mar 2010.

2. F. Nickols, “An Autonomous Mobile Robotics Training Kit for Engineers in Academia and Industry”, ICEI 2010 conference, Melaka, Malaysia 18-20 February 2010.

3. F. Nickols and M. Levasan, “The Pedagogy of creating a Mechatronic Product integrated with English Communication Skills for Teaching Design and Innovation to Engineering Undergraduates”, Mechatronics and Machine Vision in Practice conference, 3-5 Dec 2007, Xiamen, China.

4. F. Nickols, “Efficient Inverse Kinematics Computation of 3 Degree of Freedom robot leg displacement using 2 and 3-variable integer power series equations”, 3rd Humanoid, Nanotechnology, Information Technology, Communication and Control Environment and Management (HNICEM) International Conference. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) – Philippine Section, March 15-18, 2007 Century Park Hotel, Manila, Philippines.

5. F. Nickols, “Emergent Behaviour Real-time Programming of a Six-Legged Omni-Directional Robot; Strategy of creating Viennese Waltz behaviour, part1”, ICARCV 2006 9th International Conference on Control, Automation, Robotics and Vision, December 2006 Singapore