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July 17, 2021 Saturday 11:47:44 AM IST

Wall-E in the Making!

Science Innovations

Makes no sense! That is what I mumbled when browsing through essay prompts in my daughter’s college applications - "How will you change the world?"! I thought it was beyond the limits of an 11th grader. But, next year, when we were looking for a science project for my son Navneeth, it made perfect sense! We decided to do something that could change the world! To give due credit, we must thank Hollywood, for we decided to do WALL-E.

Being a hardware engineer made it easy for me to initiate him for it. I bought him some basic Arduino based kits to start with fun electronic projects - blinking lights, etc. There were discussions over days about how we would best design the rotation of the wheels for a remote control car (RC) car, the main challenge being how the car would turn left or right. He came up with a few ideas: three wheels like an auto-rickshaw, four wheels like a car, and few others. We explored the engineering challenges of each and finally decided on two front drive wheels which could be driven by independent motors at different speeds to cause the turn.

Choice of Materials

It was now time to order motors and wheels. We again discussed various designs for the vehicle – metal or wood? We decided on wood because of the ease to work with it. Selecting the power for the motor was too hard a task for my son, we decided it based on internet recommendations.

Once all the parts came in, I helped him put the platform together – there were a few tussles between the two of us – one being the question from him about the imperfection of something, “why is that not enough that way?” I think he is still not convinced that if something can be improved by a little more effort, the effort is worth it.

Celebration


I paced the project for my son step by step. We put the Arduino on the vehicle and it was easy for him to drive the car forward or backwards using controls. Then, we downloaded an app that could send the controls from the app on a phone to the Arduino over Bluetooth. Hooray!, we had a remote control car! We celebrated the milestone by sharing the video on social media.

The next step was developing the control app ourselves using Android. Android was new for both of us, so we spent time on the internet watching videos – we made a schedule for this learning process, and after many weeks we had the Android control to drive the vehicle working.

Challenge

Next step was to recognize objects. I got busy at my work at this juncture, and my son took this task upon himself. For image recognition, watching tutorials on the internet, he figured out how to use the computer’s webcam to recognize a person. Then he made the algorithm to take a picture of himself using the webcam, recognize a person in the image, and move the vehicle right or left based on where the recognized object was on the frame.

Inspiration

He now got the same algorithm working using the phone’s cam. Once we mounted the phone on the vehicle, the vehicle continuously repeated the “take photo-recognize person-drive towards recognized image” algorithm to drive towards an object. We again celebrated the achievement by posting a video on social media!

WALL-E is still in the making – “recognize trash! –go towards it - pick it up – repeat!” –to make the world better! 


Krishna Kumar PS

Senior Hardware Design Engineer, Broadcom Inc, California

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