Learning how to build robots at Florida Tech. Meet PantherBot

Learning how to build robots at Florida Tech is all part of a day’s work for a mechanical engineering major. Of the robots I get to work with in the Robotics and Spatial Systems Lab, my second favorite has to be PantherBot (Spherewalker is my first due to all the hard work I’ve put into it).

Even though I am not currently involved in the day-to-day development of the PantherBot, I still know quite a bit about it and fully appreciate its absolute awesomeness. PantherBot is a general-purpose mobile robot platform for autonomous navigation and teleoperations. In English, this means that PantherBot is a robot that can function without help from people, can be programmed to perform specific tasks and can interact with real-life obstacles.

PantherBot is equipped with a Schunk robotic arm with six degrees of freedom; a laser navigation system, SICK (the brand) laser range finder; 21 sonar collision sensors; two video cameras with video feeds that can be accessed and streamed live; Wi-Fi connection; and two on-board PCs that run Linux. All these handy dandy and incredibly efficient tools fit snugly into PantherBots small, oval, yellow body. It has so many different uses and features and, on top of all that, it’s kind of adorable. It’s like WALL-E’s “adorkable” cousin.

When learning how to build robots, we often piggy-back off the work of other student projects. PantherBot benefits from further development thanks to the hard work and research of previous senior design projects. In one of these projects, a suite of tools for PantherBot was developed.  During this project, students developed two different tools to give PantherBot the ability to press buttons (such as elevator buttons, handicapped buttons for doors, etc.) and to open doors with rotating handles. These two tools, which ended up being added to PantherBot’s system, were the “Enterprise” and the “Prod.”

During the recent Discovery Day, we were asked to put on a short demo that described the basic overview of what we do in the lab and show off some of the robots we get to work with. Of course, we chose to show off PantherBot. Our professor, Dr. Larochelle, thought it would be fun if we programmed PantherBot to grab a Florida Tech flag and wave it back and forth to show his school pride! So, the PantherBot team got to work and made it happen! My job was just to walk behind the cute lil’ robot to activate the emergency stops in case the Wi-Fi went haywire and it started driving into walls (yeah, that’s not really good for it). In the end, everything went perfectly and the spectators loved seeing PantherBot wave his little flag. Take a look at the video below to see PantherBot in action.

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