Engineering students from The University of Adelaide have taken out the top award in their final-year mechatronics project competition, with an automated foosball table capable of kicking human opposition off the park.
Comprising a motion sensor system, software written by the student team for decision-making, and a precision actuation system for manipulation of the controls, the automated game proved to be stiff competition.
The winning project was sponsored by Sage Automation’s training arm, Sage Didactic, and supported motion control technology and expertise from Rockwell Automation.
Foosball is a soccer-style game that pits two opponents against each other--in this case, only one of them human--both controlling four sets of player rods that can be manipulated side-to-side, and rotated to kick the ball and score goals.
“We wanted to use mechatronics in a fun and recreational context,” said Matthew Turnbull, who led the student team on the eight-month project. “Our sponsors hoped that after the project was finished, it could be used to promote interest in engineering.”
According to Sage Automation’s national standards and innovation manager, Sam Koulianos, who provided technical mentoring for the project, the University of Adelaide students initially came to them with a design, looking for sponsorship for the project: “We looked at the materials list and said, we’ll sponsor it, and we’ll see if we can get our suppliers to help with the hardware.”
Sage then approached Rockwell Automation to provide an integrated motion control solution. A logic-control and servo-motor actuation system based on the PC-based SoftLogix platform and Kinetix 2000 motion control technology was designed to manipulate the game’s controls. This interfaced with the students’ custom-written AI software, which acted as the brains of the game.
“As far as we knew, no-one had done this before--interfacing SoftLogix with a separate Windows based program,” said Turnbull.
A 96-pinhole camera and LED sensor grid system was used to keep track of the ball’s position on the table. This information was read into the AI software via a digital I/O card, with decisions on movement commands fed into the SoftLogix platform.
Since both the AI and SoftLogix software were housed on the same PC, communications were all handled using PC memory. “This meant that there was no need for additional PLC hardware,” said Sage’s Koulianos, “Here you’ve got SERCOS communications to the servo system coming straight out of the PC.”
The SERCOS PC card interfaced directly with the Kinetix 2000 motion control platform, where actuation was performed by eight Kinetix 2000 servo-motors--four controlling linear motion of the rods via rack-and-pinion systems, and four controlling the rotation, or kicking of the players.
“Using this design, rotational and linear movement could be carried out simultaneously and independently,” said Turnbull.
According to Turnbull, having industry sponsorship for this project was an important factor. “For a university project, it’s not always possible to achieve industry standards,” said Turnbull, “but we were able to reach that level. Sage and Rockwell Automation were instrumental in allowing us to achieve that.”
The automated foosball table will be kept at Sage Didactic’s new training facility in Adelaide, as an example of the vision and ability of engineering students.
“Sage Didactic aims to ignite people’s interest in engineering, and to tap into engineering potential from a young age, so we were very pleased to sponsor this project,” said Peter Dawson, Sage Didactic CEO.
“It’s great that together with Sage, Rockwell Automation has the foresight to invest in future engineers, and that they have the technology and expertise to enable this sort of project, allowing students to gain outstanding experience and project outcomes like this at such an early stage of their careers.”