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European Union ESPRIT IV Project No 33915

The MINIMAN project concerns the development of a smart microrobot with five degrees of freedom and a size of few centimetres squared. The research and development of the microrobot is funded under the European Union ESPRIT programme and is worth about 2.5 million ECU (£1.5 million).

The microrobot is able to move and manipulate objects by the use of tube-shaped multilayered piezo actuators. Controlled with the help of visual and force/tactile sensors, the microrobot will be capable of performing manipulations down to an accuracy of 10 nanometres.

Micromachined grippers enable the robot to perform tasks involving high-precision grasping, transporting, manipulating and positioning of mechanical or biological objects/cells under an optical microscope or within the vacuum chamber of a scanning electron microscope. A powerful parallel computer system will ensure the robot operates in real-time.

The innovative nature of MINIMAN has attracted collaboration from well established European research institutions and companies which are involved in cutting-edge research in electronic engineering, robotic and control systems and materials engineering.

The issues that need to be addressed are the research, development and construction of micro grippers, visual and force/tactile sensors, and telemanipulated or semi-automated control systems.

The performance of the MINIMAN microrobot will be evaluated by means of the following demonstrations

  • handling and assembly of micromechanical parts under an optical microscope
  • handling and assembly of micromechanical parts in the vacuum chamber of a scanning electron microscope
  • grasping, moving and sorting of biological cells under a water-resistant optical lens

Our role at Sheffield Hallam University is to construct a semi-autonomous vision control system. It will have the capability of recognising and tracking objects and will provide a closed-loop feedback mechanism to the microrobot. The personnel involved are

  • Bala Amavasai (object tracking and real-time vision)
  • Fabio Caparrelli (real-time vision and object recognition)
  • Arul Nirai (vision control, object recognition, hardware vision systems)
  • Ben Salem (hardware vision systems)

Project partners

Co-ordinator - University of Karlsruhe, Institute for Process Control and Robotics (IPR), Karlsruhe, Germany

Academic partners

  • Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT) St. Ingbert, Germany
  • Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, MiTech Lab (SSSA), Pisa, Italy
  • University of Barcelona, Departament d'Electrònica (EME), Barcelona, Spain
  • Sheffield Hallam University, School of Engineering (SHU), Sheffield, United Kingdom
  • Uppsala University, Department of Materials Science (DMS), Uppsala, Sweden

Industrial partners

  • Nederlandse Philips Bedrijven B.V., Philips Research (PRLE), Eindhoven, The Netherlands
  • Kammrath & Weiss GmbH (K&W), Dortmund, Germany

Publications related to MINIMAN (Sheffield Hallam only)

  • Caparrelli, F., Rockett, P.I., Yates, R.B., A novel approach to nearest neighbour search in high-dimensional spaces for 3D object recognition, In. Proc. Image Processing and Applications Conference IPA99, Manchester, UK, July 1999.
  • Saatchi, R., Yates, R.B., Büerkle, A. and Fatikow, S., Image Recognition of Miniature Objects for Microassembly Station, MME'99 Micromechanics Europe, Gif-sur-Yvette, France, 27-28 Sep, pp.55-58, 1999.
  • Recognition of large lens using Mimas
  • Meikle. S. and Yates, R.B., Lessons learned from computer vision, Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 3990: Smart Electronics and MEMS, California, USA, Mar. 6-8 2000.
  • Meikle, S. and Yates, R.B., Building smarter sensors - lessons learned from computer vision, Proceedings of IEEE Intelligent Vehicles Symposium 2000, pp210-214, Detroit, USA, Oct. 2000.
  • Amavasai, B.P., Meikle, S. and Yates, R.B., Robust vision system for micro-object manipulation, Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 4194: Microrobotics and Microassembly II, Boston, USA, November 2000.
  • Salem, B., User interface for the telecontrol of a micro-robot, eds. Choset, H.M., Gage, D.W. and Stein, M.R., Proceedings of SPIE, Vol. 4195B: Mobile Robots XV and Telemanipulator and Telepresence Technologies VII, Boston, USA, November 2000.
  • Amavasai, B.P., Yates R.B. and Meikle, S., Vision control for a MEMs robotic system, Journal of Measurement and Control, 2000. InstMC Scientific Instrument Makers' 2001 prize
  • Amavasai, B.P., Caparrelli, F., Selvan, A.N., Salem, B. and Travis, J.R., A real-time machine vision system for micro-robotic manipulation, poster, Micro-robotics - Can Technology Outsmart Nature, Institute of Materials, UK, 16 May 2001. Best research prize
  • Büerkle, A., Schmoeckel, F., Wörn, H., Amavasai, B.P., Caparrelli, F. and Travis, J.R., A versatile vision system for micromanipulation tasks, Proc. of the International Conference on Multisensor Fusion and Integration for Intelligent Systems (MFI 2001), pp.271-276, ISBN 3-00-008260-3, Baden-Baden, Germany, 20-22 Aug 2001.
  • Büerkle, A., Schmoeckel, F., Kiefer, M., Amavasai, B.P., Caparrelli, F., Selvan, A.N. and Travis, J.R., Vision based closed-loop control of mobile microrobots for micro handling tasks, Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 4568: Microrobotics and Microassembly III, Boston, USA, October 2001.
  • Amavasai, B.P., Principles of Vision Systems, IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics: Principles and Applications Workshop, London, November 2002.

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