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HouseCat is a small scale robotic vehicle conceived to provide engineers easy access to experiment with the various competencies required for an autonomous compact track loader application while avoiding the encumbrance and safety concerns of working with full size equipment.

An Arduino was used to the various motors and actuators emulating the behavior of the full size skid loader but full size equipment is controlled via a CAN bus so HouseCat was equipped with a compact Topcon machine control processor and we used a Raspberry Pi to translate the CAN commands to operational instructions for the Arduino.  This architecture insured that software developed on the HouseCat could be easily migrated to full size equipment.

The HouseCat sensor implementation included a forward looking stereo camera set, an additional higher resolution forward looking simple camera, IMU on the chassis and IMU's for bucket pose.  Video streams were hosted by a pair of Raspberry Pi's locally prior to transmission via Wi-Fi to a host laptop running a ROS framework.

 This configuration expanded bandwidth, reduced overall latency in the video streams, and provided for some amount of abstraction to be performed locally.

My team consisted of an electrical tech and 2 software interns with occasional guidance and support from Topcon software engineers on staff.  In addition to managing the project I contributed mechanical design and fabrication.  A single mk I unit was built using a commercial tracked bot platform, this unit was replaced by a build of 3 mk II units with purpose designed structure and upgraded mechanicals.  Most of the articulating parts (including the drive gears) were printed using a 3D filament extrusion process in ABS.  The superstructure and chassis reinforcements were fabricated from Makerbeam.

This diagram represents an early architecture.  The SAMA5 was later replaced by a Topcon MC-X1, but the overall structure of the block diagram is representative.

© 2019 Donna Kelley

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