The entire process depended on rapid controller development and implementation, using Quanser’s QUARC rapid prototyping software and the Q8 card for accurate, detailed data acquisition.
Dr. O’Malley found the Q8 was an ideal data acquisition and control interface for this project
because their robotic arm has five degrees of freedom. Having one interface card plugged into one computer slot really simplified the communication from the PC to the hardware. Using one data acquisition card for all the channels allowed her to avoid the unnecessary complexity of adding several cards to get the same 5DOF information. Then, because of QUARC’s pre-defined function block sets. Dr. O’Malley was able to go from interfacing with a model to interfacing with hardware quickly.
As she put it, “The computation speed and the communication speed between the Q8 board and the QUARC environment is excellent, and completely fulfilled our needs. So we were able to gather information quickly, learn what worked and didn’t work, then implement the necessary rapid design changes to the controller.”
This was important, in part because Dr. O’Malley and her research associate were developing all this in conjunction with rehab clinicians who would be dealing with the rehab patients. The strategy they chose was to have hardware in their lab that mirrored the hardware deployed in the hospital.
”In the hospital, the therapists can actually see how well the robot works with their patients. That allowed the therapists to better articulate their needs. For example, they could tell us if they required more range of motion, more or less resistance, or some additional functionality. By using QUARC rapid prototyping software, we had a lab platform that allowed us to quickly modify and update our controller design and deliver on their changes.”
How quickly? Dr. O’Malley’s research associate could come back to the lab and implement the latest changes in one afternoon. He could then return to the hospital, upload the new controller design, test it out and it’d be ready to go for the patient the next day. “That’s how quickly QUARC enabled us to refine and implement our controller design. The speed of QUARC is an important key to the whole development process.”
By working with the therapists and patients early in the process, Dr. O’Malley and her associate were able to enact continuous improvement on the hardware and software interface. They’re currently collecting data from a trial with multiple subjects in a more controlled experiment and seeing really positive results of the robotic rehabilitation. “I want to note Quanser’s high level of customer support throughout our development process,” Dr. O’Malley says. It’s not uncommon for my students to get on the phone with someone at Quanser who wrote the block they’re working with. The Quanser Academic Solutions Advisor has been extremely helpful since he knows the problems we were facing, and the applications. He always connects us to the right people to solve or discuss any issue that arises.”