Robot Control

How a Xojo App Controls Counter IED Robots for the Australian Defense Force and Victorian Bomb Response Unit

While Johnny 5, Dot Matrix, T-800, and, of course, Wall-E may be household names for their starring roles in some of pop culture’s most geekiest sci-fi flicks, many are unaware how active the role of robots is in today’s society. And many Xojo users are unaware of how large the role of Xojo is in the robot world. Developers all over the world are using Xojo to control robots and other devices.

Dr. James Mullins is a Senior Research Fellow for the Centre for Intelligent Systems Research at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia. With degrees in Robotics Engineering and Medical Haptics, which is used for training surgeons to operate on ‘virtual’ patients using virtual reality and force feedback, Dr. Mullins spent time developing a simulator for training surgeons, doctors and nurses on how to perform needle insertion procedures. During that timeframe, he started working on defense and law enforcement robotics and secured a permanent position with Deakin University.

“I’ve always been interested in robotics, but I’m not totally sure where it came from,” stated Dr. Mullins when asked what peaked his interest in robotics. “I remember watching Batteries Not Included when I was little and loved reading all about robots.”

For over 8 years, Dr. Mullins and his team have been working with the police and have some of their robots in service with the Victorian bomb response unit, special operations unit and force response unit. The programs they develop provide the user interface to control these robots and communicate with the various controllers and sensors mounted on the platforms.

They have an ongoing project with the Australian Defense Force developing haptic technology for the remote manipulation of Improvised Explosive Devices.

“We work on robots that are used to disarm roadside bombs,” commented Mullins. “It allows defense personnel to pull apart the bomb and make it safe as if they were standing in front of it themselves. We use stereovision and haptics to achieve immersion in the remote environment from the protection of an armored vehicle.”

All of the initial concept demonstrators used Xojo, as the basis for all of the command and control software. They have since transitioned to a fully embedded system so they do not have to wait for an OS to boot. The embedded system allows them to startup the system in less than 5 seconds! They still use Xojo as the debugging software to monitor and develop the embedded software and are looking forward to compiling for iOS with Xojo, which is coming soon.

“We develop hardware that allows doctors, nurses and bomb disposal experts to operate remotely or train using force feedback,” commented Dr. Mullins. “It’s sort of like the old Daytona video game, where the game controller would vibrate so that you feel the cornering forces as you drive your car around corners. With haptics, you can feel a surgical procedure while performing on a ‘virtual’ patient.”

The benefits of haptics to the medical field are numerous. They are essential training tools for allowing trainee surgeons the ability to practice without risk to patients and gives administrators the ability to monitor and provide feedback in real-time on the surgeons capability. Haptic technology can also be used to provide force feedback to an operator performing remote robotic surgery.

Why Xojo?

Primarily a self-taught programmer, Dr. Mullins spent some time using C and, later VB, as an undergrad. The transition to Xojo was an easy decision to make.

“At the time, it was the only product that seemed to have the real world interface support out of the box, and was intuitive for a non-programmer, like myself, to pick up,” commented Dr. Mullins. “I first used Xojo back in the 3.0 days as a result of developing a mobile robot for my undergraduate robotics engineering degree. I worked as a service technician at our local Apple Store, and have always had an interest in programming embedded devices. Xojo was my first foray into programming for an OS and I developed a tele-presence robot based on an old G3 powerbook.”

Besides being easy-to-learn and easy-to-use, Xojo’s ability to quickly develop graphical user interfaces that look good, tied with back end code that works well with real world devices and serial ports are some of the greatest advantages for Dr. Mullins and his team.

“I probably develop an application per week to quickly test a piece of hardware,” added Dr. Mullins. “We use a 3D printer and another quick application that is quite handy is used to cost a model before printing based on consumables and machine time.”

When asked if he is working on any new projects with Xojo, Dr. Mullins commented, “Yes, all the time, but some of them I can’t talk about!”