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February 10, 2021 Wednesday 01:56:15 PM IST

Robot arm lends a hand to socially-distanced engineering students

Teacher Insights

Engineering students on two continents are receiving a helping hand with their coursework during their socially-distanced semester. Students at campuses in China and Scotland are adapting to remote working by taking control of a sophisticated robot arm to help them learn the basics of circuit design. It’s the result of design and programming work by engineers at the University of Glasgow and their counterparts at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) in Chengdu. The collaboration is part of the international partnership between the University of Glasgow and UESTC to deliver undergraduate degree programmes in China.
The robot itself is located in the James Watt South building on the University of Glasgow’s Gilmorehill campus. It’s been made available for students on UESTC’s Circuit Analysis and Design course to use initially, with Glasgow students being given the chance to try the arm ahead of it being integrated into teaching in the near future.
Researchers from the University of Glasgow developed new software to allow students to book time with the robot and to operate it remotely to complete tasks they would normally do themselves in the lab. The robot hardware itself is called the Panda. Developed by Franka Emika in Germany, it is designed to offer fine-grained control in a wide range of applications.
In this case, the robot arm is helping students build circuits as part of their coursework. Using the software the team developed, students can pre-program the path the arm will take to pick up parts, place them and connect them to complete circuits. Their work will be graded by teaching staff just as it would be if they had completed it with their own hands.
The team are also investigating the possibility of making the arm fully user-controlled via webcam. They hope that further work could translate the fine details of students moving their arms in front of their computers into movements of the robot arm, allowing direct real-time control.