Mechatronics Students Get on the Ball

Popular Tech Magazine Features Students' App That Commands a Ball-tracking Robot

In the spring of 2015, graduate students Anthony Brill, Matthew Moorhead, and Jonghyun Bae were enrolled in Professor Vikram Kapila’s advanced mechatronics class, learning to combine mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, informatics, and sensors and computer control, in order to integrate those functions throughout the entire design process. (Mechatronic engineers have made enormous contributions to the automotive industry, the medical field, military defense, and numerous other areas.)

The trio’s student project involved the design of a robotic system that could be wirelessly commanded to track a colored ball, by way of a mobile application. The editors of the widely circulated tech magazine Circuit Cellar featured their work in the March 2016 issue, marking what just might be the first time a student-developed app bearing the NYU Tandon name has appeared in a major publication.

User interface for the mobile application

User interface for the mobile application

The magazine explains that a user can select the color of the ball from a variety of possibilities using the touchscreen of his or her smart device. Then, a web camera functions as the vision sensor, a Raspberry Pi performs the image processing routines to detect the chosen ball, and an Arduino microcontroller provides the motor control to track the desired ball once detected.

In the future, Brill, Moorhead, and Bae envision streaming the video captured by the webcam to the smart device in real time, allowing the user to interact with the live video using gestures on the touch screen. They also foresee their robot using advanced learning algorithms to recognize objects, rather than relying on color.

“It is gratifying to see the work of students from my course receiving attention from the editors of a popular electronics magazine and being shared with the magazine’s thousands of readers,” Professor Kapila said. “I look forward to being amazed by their next creations.”

NYU Tandon School of Engineering launched a master’s of science degree program in mechatronics and robotics earlier this year—one of the few American institutions to offer such a program.