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Wii Remote Controls Giant Robot Arm

| 10 Jul 2009 16:52

If you had just finished construction on a five-story, 15-metric-ton robot grappler arm, what would you do with it? If you work for heavy machinery company Transmin, apparently you write a program to control it with a Wii Remote.

Transmin, an Australian-based company that manufactures heavy machinery, had finished an order to complete a pair of five-story robot arms that weighed in at 15 metric tons (or tonnes, if you're going to be picky about it) - each. The last step for the company was to create a control system that would allow an operator to either control the claws with a joystick, or enable automated movement while preventing disastrous collisions.

While celebrating the completion of the project over lunch, project coordinator Angie Loh told The Escapist, the team asked themselves, "What if we replaced the joystick with a Wiimote?"

The comment may have been meant in jest, but programmers Dan Adams and Simon Wittber took it as a challenge. They "looked at [their] watches, then rushed back to the office," says Wittber, where "[i]t all took off after that." Within two hours, Wittber and Adams had written a script in Python that would enable the titanic steel arms to be controlled by a dinky little plastic remote - leading to the video you see above.

Of course, viewing the video, one might (rightfully) wonder where the team could possibly have hidden the sensor bar. As it turns out, they didn't even need it: "The Wiimote uses the sensor bar to detect where on the TV screen you are pointing. It has 3 other sensors inside the Wiimote itself, for detecting pitch, yaw and roll. These sensors don't require the sensor bar in order to work, they communicate with the computer via Bluetooth."

Though Wittber admits that the controls "were not very precise" since the entire hack had been completed in two hours without proper calibration, it didn't actually matter thanks to software that compensated for user error when operating the arms. In fact, he thinks it would be completely feasible to accurately and precisely control the grapple - and do actual work - with a Wii Remote.

As it turns out, the Transmin programmers have experience working with game programming as organizers of the Perth Game Jam; Adams also recently founded his own development company.

Wittber believes that the intersection between games and reality - "augmented reality" gaming - will become more common, and that it could be a cool theme for the next Game Jam. While the team has no plans to do something with Project Natal or the PS3 motion control, that's due more to the lack of an available open source driver than anything else. Of course, whatever the team puts together next has the potential to be significantly more... entertaining, shall we say?

Next year we may be automating some large rock breakers for Transmin, and there could be some opportunity for more experiments with new types of control hardware. A rock breaker is basically a large grapple type arm, with a massive hydraulic hammer on the end. It can destroy things. Easily.

Maybe they'll get the hammer to work with the Sixaxis.

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