Quick Change End Effector
Associate Professor Mark Yim, of the University of Pennsylvania, visits Willow Garage a couple of times each year to collaborate with Willow researchers and engineers. This year, Mark experimented with a quick-change end-effector to the PR2.
Mark has designed, built, and controlled a wide array of modular robotic systems. His research group, the ModLab, works on all aspects of modular and self-reconfiguring robots, from mechanical and electrical design to high-level programming. Their CKBot robot modules can be rearranged into a variety of physical forms, from snake-like crawlers to legged walkers.
Together with Penn students Jimmy Sastra, Matt Piccoli, and Mohit Bhoite, Mark applied his modular approach to the design of an experimental quick-change end-effector that allows PR2 to swap out its standard gripper for custom tools, like screwdrivers. Using this system, PR2 can single-handedly exchange one end-effector for another, storing the spares in a custom holster on its base. The attachment of an end effector is made with a "stub" that provides both a mechanical and an electrical connection, allowing the power and data flow required to control the new tool.
PR2 is a research platform that was designed to support users who want to modify hardware and the software to meet their needs. From the start, PR2 was designed with modularity in mind, and Mark's work is testing that design, demonstrating what can and cannot be easily changed. It's exciting to see the first of what will hopefully be a long line of innovative customizations to PR2.
You can follow the progress of the ModLab on their blog.