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Remember your childhood, when a bucket of Lego bricks was like having infiniteammo for your imagination? Growing up doesn’t mean you have to give up those moments. In fact, you can now use your imagination and make stuff that is much more complex and has far greater capabilities. In this article, we discuss an interesting kit that will allow you to create a myriad of robotic structures to perform various functions.

Merlyn TRN-1
At its simplest, it is a robotic kit that helps you design up to 28 different types of fundamental robots, be it a linear moving robot, rotary robotic arm or even a robot with cylindrical axis. If you dig beneath the surface a little, it is a completely modular, electronic, rugged kit that not only allows you to create robots but also helps you add new features to them. This one kit allows a huge array of possibilities to create, control and reconfigure robots—wha-ever be the need.

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It is basically a gadget, the parts of which can be attached together to create any kind of motion. You can add your regular devices to this gadget. The best part is that you can use it to perform functions required for industrial automation—such is the flexibilit of this device.

This kit is the brainchild of Biju Ronnie Varkey, owner of Designs and Projects Development (DPD), Patiala. A robotics enthusiast himself, Varkey worked on this product for two long years, making sure that it is built and functions exactly the way it is meant to be.

On asking what drove this idea in his mind, Varkey says, “While teaching robotics at engineering colleges, I noticed that there was nothing available at hand to teach students in a way that they would not only remember but also enjoy learning robotics. The most I saw anywhere was a couple of microcontrollers, line follower robots and the like. I sincerely felt that this was a huge waste of engineering talent and hence I started working on this project two years ago by designing and then fine-tuningthe initial design according to the feedbacks I received from students and teachers, who are as much responsible for the finaldesign as anyone who worked on it.”

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“Apart from generating an interest in robotics, I also wanted students, who come out having learnt the basics of robotics, to be able to say that they had an employable education,” he adds.

Features of Merlyn TRN-1
The kit is basically divided into three parts: electronics, which includes microcontrollers, motors and drivers for motors; mechanical part, which comprises all the axes; and software segment, which controls microcontrollers used in the kit.

The kit uses a stepper motor for movement along all the axes, including the rotary axis that has a geared set-up. The motor used is a 2A stepper motor with independent drivers for each of the motors. These drivers are controlled by a microcontroller; in case of TRN-1, an Arduino Mega 2560 board. You can also drive it by connecting it to your PC or laptop.

“Using an Arduino board provides a good number of inputs/outputs (useful for attaching a number of sensors) and is also easy to program, highly stable and extremely flexible.Stepper motors can easily be replaced with DC motors or servo motors, and all of them can be controlled directly by the board without much fuss,” Varkey says.

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The Arduino board is capable of driving up to eight axes (eight stepper motors) at the same time. Hence your system has around eight degrees of freedom. You can add a proximity sensor, IR sensor or what-ever suits you. The different motors are con-nected to each other to help the robot move the way you like.

Each of the three parts of the kit can be customised to a great degree, enabling smooth functioning and lending great frequency to the robot that you want to design.

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Obstacles
Talking about the problems encountered during the materialisation of the idea, Varkey says, “Since the idea was already in my head after the visits to engineering colleges, I spent a lot of time listening to the target users of our system, making notes of the problems they were facing, what they wanted and things they wanted in the solution. Then, it took us nearly a year to reach the point where we are today. This model is actually based on the 10th prototype we rolled out. The firstone we made could only be turned into a single basic robotic system.”

“To add value, Merlyn TRN-1 was worked on extensively to enable it to be turned into 28 fundamentally different types of robotic systems. You can cascade different kits together to increase the envelope in which you are working along with the range/scope of the work you are doing. The best part is that you are not limited by the mechanical, electronics or software scheme of things utilised in the robot,” he adds.

The components were especially made from anodised aluminium, ensuring a rugged yet light design.

Spreading the wings
The kit was premiered at the EFY Expo 2013, held recently in New Delhi, as a project concept for students.

Varkey shares, “A trial run for the product has already been done at some engineering colleges by way of live demonstrations, and almost all of those colleges have placed orders for our product. They said that this is something very new and they would love to have such a useful product in their college.”

Varkey plans to market the product by directly contacting the engineering institutes, through dealers who are already selling kits in the market, and by seeking help of media outlets like Electronics For You and the likes to spread word about this product.

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Varkey adds, “Another way we have thought of is by utilising the open source way. Our kit is open for all sorts of customisation. If a software guy comes up with a neat applet that can be integrated into the robot to perform some particularly specificfunction, we will work out some sort of revenue sharing method. If a mechanical guy comes up with an end effector that works great, he can put it on our website and we can look at the revenue sharing angle with him as well.”

Patents and future additions
DPD has applied for three patents covering the drive mechanisms. One is for the drive mechanism being used, which deals with how different mechanisms can be put together on the same axis. Another patent is for the direct drive mechanism that allows any linear member of the kit to become a linear axis. For example, consider the making of a box-type robot. In this case, the 12 sides of the box now become 12 axes of the robot. The last one is regarding the specificdrive mechanism where you can use any member of the kit and drive it directly through the stepper motor without using any type of belt. In the system, you can have a linear drive with the stepper motor using a screw-drive while having a DC motor on another axis, which has a wire-drive to move around—all of them independently working together on different fields and different actuations.

Regarding additions to the design, Varkey says, “Adding new features is the basis of all innovations and we at DPD are no different. We have plans to increase the amount of customisation available and improve the graphical user interface of the microcontroller and a host of other features.”


The author is a tech correspondent at EFY Bengaluru

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