AHMCT Research Center Core Technologies
The AHMCT Research Center has developed strong in-house facilities for developments in advanced robotics, mechatronic and embedded system design, innovative sensing technologies, localization (e.g. using high-sensitivity GPS and or laser scanning), networking, decision support, software, and automation technologies. It also has unique field facilities including test tracks and a realistic rugged-terrain field environment.
AHMCT specializes in robotic systems. We have developed long-reach robotic arms, and other application-specific specialized robots. We have also applied commercial off-the-shelf manipulators in many systems. We have developed a variety of wheeled mobile robot systems for many applications, including cracked sealing, pavement routing, and autonomous mowing. These systems include autonomous navigation based on GPS and laser scanning. Finally AHMCT has developed specialized robot actuators, for example a ball wheel mechanism which provides omni-directional motion.
The AHMCT Research Center software group specializes in the rapid delivery of prototype and production software. Emphasis is placed on the use of open-source platforms, tools, and standards. This includes extensive use of Linux-based operating systems, frameworks like Android and Qt, tools such as Eclipse, Git, Mercurial, Subversion, Ant, and JUnit, and, when applicable, modern programming languages such as Java, Python, and Go. Whenever possible, use is also made of open protocols and formats for data interchange (XML, JSON, YAML, SOAP, XMPP, HTTP, HDF), and multimedia (PNG/APNG, SVG, Ogg Vorbis).
All projects generally follow an iterative prototyping development methodology similar to the RAD (Rapid Application Development) model, where both hardware and software are produced in a multi-cycle iterative process, evolving in each cycle closer to production requirements. The stakeholders, potential customers, and users of the software or hardware are involved throughout the process in order to ensure the proper communication of design objectives, to resolve ambiguities, to build consensus for proposed solutions, and to increase the likelihood of user acceptance of the final implementation. To this end, the routine use of small-scale mock-ups is employed.
During the design phase of software or firmware application development, AHMCT Research Center programmers employ industry-standard modular object-oriented architectural concepts such as inheritance, interface, and polymorphism, along with design patterns such as MVC (Model-View-Controller) and MVP (Model-View-Presenter). This promotes code reuse and maintainability, and minimizes the cost of design changes further into the development process. Incremental changes are regularly tested internally, and are also occasionally tested by the customer or end users. Throughout development, documentation is also being produced. In addition to the goal of providing instruction and references for the end-user, documentation is also maintained in order to facilitate future development and maintenance of the software itself. To this end, the software group often makes use of automated documentation tools such as Javadoc and Doxygen.
The evolutionary history of the project and its documentation is managed using a revision control system such as Git, Mercurial, or Subversion, and, when feasible, an emphasis is placed on unit testing.
The AHMCT Research Center also includes the Mechatronics and Embedded Systems Laboratory capable of electronic fabrication, and network setup and testing. This laboratory houses various design software packages, software development platforms, fabrication and test equipment. This laboratory is fully capable of handling any mechatronic, embedded system, firmware and software development and testing, network system setup and testing, and design and prototype fabrication. Recent projects have ranged from completely in-house developed highly-integrated portable sensor collection devices, PDAs, and Android software applications, to vehicle-mounted radar for use in rugged and hazardous environments. All the developments rely heavily on design software, and advanced test and measurement equipment.
Typically in signal processing and control applications, MATLAB is used during initial design exploration and algorithm feasibility analysis. Once signal processing and control algorithms have been developed, they are either written in software and cross-compiled for a specific embedded processor, or they are implemented in an FPGA. Mentor Graphics HDL Designer is used to design the algorithm in VHDL, and ModelSim is used to simulate the VHDL design, and once verified, the design is synthesized using Leonardo Spectrum for download into the FPGA. Ultimately the control system, sensor, and glue circuitry must be designed and captured utilizing either Cadence Concept or Mentor Graphics DxDesigner. The parts and component libraries for PCB design and layout have been generated from in-house developed software. Once the design has been captured, it is laid out using Cadence Allegro or Mentor Graphics Expedition. All critical signal traces on the board are simulated and verified to meet crosstalk constraints and RF requirements. RF/Microwave circuits are designed using Agilent Advanced Design System for circuit system level design, physical design, and PCB trace generation, with sophisticated simulation and verification at all levels.
The Mechatronics and Embedded Systems Laboratory utilizes a wide array of state-of-the-art test and fabrication equipment throughout the prototype development phases. All PCB fabrications are typically outsourced to quick turn-around shops. The laboratory, however, does have the capability to fabricate two-sided PCB either on traditional FR4 or RF circuit boards utilizing a router table. In order to increase fabrication tolerances of in-house PCB fabrication, the AHMCT Center has developed a new chemical process for etching two-sided boards. This process was primarily developed for high-accuracy in-house RF PCB fabrication of test jigs for determining port parameters of RF components. Once a particular PCB is fabricated, it is RoHS-compliant assembled using a wide array of in-house surface mount tools for placement of 201 discrete components, and very fine-pitch ball grid arrays. A recent PCB design was 8 layers 4 mil trace-space with memory bus at 266MHz and RF section at 2.4 GHz. The smallest components on the board had a pitch of 0.5mm, and the embedded CPU land pattern was a 289-pin BGA via-in-pad with a pitch of 0.65mm. Assembled PCBs are reflowed in a computer-calibrated RoHS profile reflow oven. Once the prototype is assembled it is powered, tested, verified, and debugged using the test and measurement equipment.