Category Archives: Uncategorized

Multi-coloured Box Puzzle and Robot assembly

The cubic box puzzle serves two purposes; the first is as an English Communications Skills Learning Platform for Students and the second concerns autonomous mobile robots and artificial intelligence. It is a research project originated by Dr. Mani Levasan who is an Applied Linguist in the Language Centre of the University of Brunei Darussalam. Frank is a research collaborator and, together with science students, has created the hardware.

There are 27 lightweight plastic boxes with lifting knobs at each corner; each one a 1ft cube (0.3m cube). One of the boxes is an “ace” gold coloured cube. The remaining 26 boxes have six different colour faces; each with the same colour orientation. One of these 26 boxes has incorrect colour orientation so is the hidden “joker” of the pack. At present there is just one robot that can manipulate and lift the boxes and the robot is radio controlled by a human.

The research project is to task students with adding intelligence to the robot so that it can act autonomously in stacking or unstacking the boxes in a given orientation and arrangement. Later more robots will be built so they will act as simultaneously acting collaborative multi agents. The robot is a prototype so it is in need of improvement; you can see that it requires improvement in its positioning and manipulation control and placement accuracy skills.

Dr. Levasan’s idea is to use the hardware as a Student Learning Platform to teach students the science of Communication using the English Language as a communication medium; it means students communicating via English language to achieve an aim. English Communication is an important research area; for example, aircraft pilots and air traffic controllers of all nationalities must communicate instructions and information in English in a clear, concise and unambiguous manner.

Dr. Levasan will use the coloured cubes and the robots as a platform where information must be given and instructions must be carried out, similarly, in a clear, concise and unambiguous manner. For example, “look at one of the coloured boxes, scattered on the floor, on the left, next to the window, the one with a blue face pointed upwards, next to the one with the yellow face pointed upwards; now drive the robot to tip the blue face cube such that the yellow face is pointed upwards….” you get the idea? Are those instructions clear, concise and unambiguous?…discuss. There are a lot of coloured cubes and a lot of potential confusion and if lives depend on assembling the cubes into a given shape exactly, you can see the importance of English Communication

Shell Eco Marathon Car

diesel engine powered wooden car
NEWS: We did well at the the Shell Eco Marathon 2014 held in Manila Philippines, 6-9th February. We won 3 three prizes:  2nd prize for fuel efficiency, 1st prize for safety and 1st prize for design. My colleague Prof. Ng Heong Wah took home 1st prize for technical innovation for his electric car. So NTU took 4 prizes in all.

Click on the written article below to get more information.

Screen shot 2015-06-05 at 11.18.41 AM


diesel engine powered wooden cardiesel engine powered wooden car


Ping Pong Ball Ballistics Student Project

Student Electronic Design Project carried out Spring semester 2015 at University of Nottingham Ningbo China. Here are Danny and Egor showing us around the Mechatronics Lab that has been specially designed for students in that it is equipped with many designing-making-and-doing tools and features as well as having an inviting good looking green table ambiance with many square metres of working surfaces. Danny and Egor show us some of their classmates projects and their own “piece de resistance” ultimate ping pong striker that has a machine gun rapid loader magazine system. Frank taught the students how to design and build their mechanical systems from cardboard and glue and then went on to teach them how to build and solder the electronic power control circuit board. Set your Youtube quality number to highest quality, e.g. 1080p HD

…and here below is Tom’s compact robot ball-loaded hitter that was featured in the clip above but here is shown in more detail. Set your Youtube quality number to highest quality, e.g. 1080p HD

…and here below is Qiming Zhong’s robot thrower

The Ping Pong Ball Hitter, Thrower and now Catapulter Project is carried out in UNNC’s new Mechatronics Teaching and Learning Space. Students built the electronic circuitry and the cardboard mechanical system of the ball hitter using tools in the lab and then wrote real time software to hit the ping pong ball accurately over 1.9 metres, 4.0 metres and sometimes more than 6 metres. We will be adding more machine tools to the Mechatronics lab, namely, a milling machine, lathe and a 3-d printer to do small scale design and manufacturing of intricate precision mechanical systems made from 6-series aluminium alloy, plastic, brass, steel and wood. Frank introduces students to the design and manufacture of structures and mechanical systems via 3-d Autodesk Inventor design software plus “cardboard and glue engineering!!”…cardboard is an amazing material for the fast prototyping of mechanical structures and mechanisms. Students are taught that there are 4 things which create lightweight, stiff and strong structures…they are (i) shape (ii) shape (iii) shape and lastly (iv) material….meaning that don’t waste your money and machining time on exotic materials such as 7-series aluminium alloy, titanium and carbon fibre (although carbon fibre tubes are cheap and easy to get hold of), when it is the shape of a structure that is much more important than the intrinsic Young’s Modulus and ultimate tensile strength of the material.
Frank also uses his experience to (i) lead from the front by designing products himself to inspire students and also (ii) to create an ambient, creative, inviting environment for his students. Students have their own (i) bench space, approximately 2 square metres per group of 2 students (we use copious square metres of plastic green top tables that are safe, durable and help create an inviting creative ambiance and also allow mobile robots to roam freely), (ii) soldering iron station and fume extractor, (iii) D.C. power supply, (iii) oscilloscope, (iv) multimeter as well as lab manufacturing facilities. Also Notice the flat table layout so students and teaching professor can easily see each other for effective teaching and learning and also, importantly, for safety aspects so any student in trouble cannot go unseen. 

Eagle Bird Robot

These movie clips are design simulations of the Eagle Bird Robot that is currently under construction. In fact the tail has already been built. The robot will have a wingspan of 2.4 metres (8 feet) and the flapping muscle, the pectoralis breast muscle, will be powered by the Sliding Force Mechanism that is currently under construction which uses an electric motor of 1.4kW mechanical output power. A prototype muscle has already been built and tested but it is a low power 120W device that is used as a proof of concept apparatus. Why is the robot so big? Well if it is smaller then it is difficult to engineer and if it is bigger it can’t fly.


There is a real mechanism actuating each feather…the angles are not computer calculated. The tail pygostyle also has pitching and rolling degrees of freedom. The mechanism of bird feather actuation is fascinating and there are also other degrees of freedom that separate and interlock the feathers…not shown here. The mechanisms for the tail and main wing are in a formative state and there is still a lot of work to be done such as improved feather closing compactness, wing pronation and supination and flight feather twisting.



DYNAMIC AGILE ANIMAL ROBOTS is the next genre of robots to be ground broken. They will create the next Industrial Revolution…an impact as great as Intel’s microprocessor that was created 40 years ago. What you see in Hollywood films such as I-Robot will become largely reality. What is stopping the ground breaking is the biomimetic skeletal muscle. Once we have such a a muscle then the road is clear for the MOST EXCITING ROBOTS THAT THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN. These robots will be humanoid robots that can run faster than Usain Bolt; these robots will be four-legged animal robots that can run faster than a Cheetah (100kph or 60mph) and can swerve and chase like the real animal; these robots will take off, hover, fly, swoop and soar, catch a pigeon from the sky then land and perch on the branch of a tree just like a bald-headed eagle; these robots will swim and swerve and jump out of the water and dive and dodge just like a dolphin, these robots will be able to pounce and leap like a leopard; these robots will be able to play football like Rooney and Ronaldinho. These robots will move from science fiction to science fact but only when we have that elusive biomimetic skeletal muscle. Many readers will ask why do we want to do this? The answer is that such robots will be our helpers (see I-Robot), our friends; they will deliver goods; they will be used by the military; they will be used in industry as workers; they will be used in hospitals to save nurses from back breaking duties; they will be used for dirty and dangerous jobs; they will be used to travel to Mars. Yes they will take away jobs but the jobs they create will outnumber the jobs created. These jobs created refer to the maintenance and servicing of the robots. These robots will be quite complicated and so will need service technicians. Jobs will also be created in the spare parts business of these robots. This Industrial Revolution will happen within the next 10 years and shake us out of economic slump we are in at the moment.