When done with the right tools, hands-on learning can be the best way to help students understand the given curriculum, especially in engineering fields. Since its development in 2006, the haptic paddle has become a staple element of Rice University’s Modeling Dynamic Systems course, taught by Dr. Marcia O’Malley. The haptic paddle is a simple, one-degree-of-freedom device with a moveable handle that can be rotated back and forth. Magnetic sensors can track the handle’s position in real time. The bottom of the device has a DC motor with a friction drive that contacts the base of the handle. Third-year mechanical engineering students use the haptic paddle in the lab to experiment with actual dynamic systems to reinforce and expand their understanding of the material presented in their lectures.
The entire lab portion of the Modeling Dynamic Systems course, taught by graduate students, is structured around the haptic paddle. The first exercise introduces students to the device and has them calculate the paddle’s inertia and the motor’s torque constant based on their experimental data. Later exercises include introducing operational amplifiers, analyzing first and second-order step responses, and determining motor damping. The lab builds up to the final exercise, where students perform teleoperation with two of the systems linked together.
The paddle’s effectiveness as a learning tool has even extended beyond the course’s curriculum; students use it in various outreach programs designed to engage K-12 students of different backgrounds in robotics and engineering in general. In addition, Dr. O’Malley and her students, Chad Rose and James French, demonstrated the device in a presentation by National Instruments. While the device may appear simple at first glance, its ability to enrich the education of students appears to be boundless.
Rice University has seen several iterations of the paddle since its debut. Graduate student Chad Rose first contacted ADVANCED Motion Controls in September of 2015. He and fellow graduate student Craig McDonald were working with Dr. O’Malley to simplify the paddle’s motor control, so students wouldn’t need to be concerned with modeling the motor’s electrical dynamics. To achieve that, they needed a servo drive with current control. AMC supplied the team a discounted 12A8M drive and two free 10A8 drives. Since then, Dr. O’Malley and Chad have continued to work on the Haptic Paddle and always contact AMC when they want to construct more units or expand the laboratory.
The most recent redesign of the paddle was undertaken by Dr. O’Malley, Chad, and Nathan Bucki. These three created a ball and beam module to the device, which allows for analysis of more complex mechanical systems. The addition of interchangeable modules to the paddle base opens a new realm of possibilities, all of which we are eager to see. Thankfully, the brilliant minds working on the haptic paddle expect the project to continue for many years to come. We can’t wait to see what’s next, but until then, we tip our hats to the talented students and professors at Rice University enhancing this wonderful hands-on learning experience.
“AMC’s University Outreach Program has given us access to resources that simplify the control of DC motors, allowing the students to focus on learning basic dynamics and control concepts. Additionally, with the sponsorship, we’ve been able to expand the number of lab stations, to increase student’s ‘hands-on’ time with the haptic paddles at very low cost, and have haptic paddles which we can deploy for demonstrations at outreach events or as prototypes in other courses.”
– Chad Rose