Digilent Design Contest US 2014 Winner: Tele-Operated Bi-Manual Augmented System

I really enjoy my job at Digilent because we get to help more engineers in the world by giving students access to the latest technology. One of the coolest parts of my job is getting to go to design contests  and getting to see students first-hand building innovative projects using our products!


Recently, Digilent held the annual regional Digilent Design Contest at New York City College of Technology,  the largest public college of technology in New York state and a national model for technological education. I was invited to organize and run the contest.  We invited representatives from across the industry to act as judges for the projects, including Dr. Mukhles Rohman, Mr Narasinha C. Parasnis, Miss Stephonie Leonard, and Mr. Fernando Hernandez.



The first prize went to the tele-operated bi-manual augmented system, a chipKIT-based humanoid robot. It was developed by Eugene Babkin, Bijan Bayat Mokhtari, and Angjelo Kuka of the New York City College of Technology.


The second prize went to the auto driving car, a chipKIT-based automobile that will be able to drive itself on the highway with minimal user input. It was developed by Dominic Celiano of the US Air Force Academy.


Third prize went to the Elderly Independence, an FPGA-based device monitors a person’s vitals, while allowing them to maintain their independence. It was developed by Elvin Bautista, Gin Pena, and Washington Sarmiento of the New York City College of Technology.


It was inspiring to see all of the projects. There were over 20 entries, of which 10 of them were invited to the final judging round. Every team was given 25 minutes to show off, present and give a presentation. Of that, the judges had to assign a score and winners were picked. The winner and first runner up of the competition was sponsored to attend the Digilent Design Contest Worldwide Finals 2014 at Shanghai. In addition, the top three teams had in total $1600 cash.


All of the projects were really inspiring, but in particular what got my attention was the project that ended up winning first prize!  The tele-operated bi-manual augmented system (TOBiAS) is  a humanoid robot  powered by the Digilent chipKIT Max 32 that can be intuitively operated  via wired communication.  It can be also classified as an open source robot, as the torso, arm, hands, and neck of the robot were downloaded from InMoov and then 3D printed as well as assembled.


Custom mechanical design around the human body for control unit

The control unit is a wearable controlled mechatronic device in which the user sits comfortably and is able to control the robot. This device reads the movement of the operator and mirrors the movements on the robot. It consists of arm and hand control units. Somewhat similarly to an exo-suit, the operator straps the control arms and gloves to his/her arms, wears the helmet, and thereby controls the robot. The degree of movement will trigger new readings for the rotary potentiometer.


Hand Control Unit of TOBiAS
Hand control unit of TOBiAS.


Hand Unit Fits Well
The hand unit fits well!


Custom electronics to control the servos

There are 22 servos and 22 sensors plus batteries and other components in the circuit. Below is a basic wiring diagram that demonstrates how the finger control servos are wired in each hand; the remainder of the servos are wired in a similar fashion.


Schematic of the finger control servos.


Future development

The ultimate goal is to be able to control the robot remotely, so the control unit includes a first person view (FPV) device in which a smartphone can be placed. Another smartphone will be placed inside the head of the robot. The two smartphones will be connected to each other via video conference services such as Skype and Tango. At this point, the operator will be seeing what the robot sees. The FPV also includes a gyro sensor which can detect movement and rotation of the operator’s head. This information is then relayed to the servos in the robot’s head, enabling it to move it accordingly.


FPV mounted on helmet
FPV mounted on helmet.


The demo video and detailed report is at Digilent Design Contest US website. The students plan to put all their sources online. When I watched science fiction movies a few years ago, all those humanoid robots were only built by NASA or big companies. I hoped (and believed) that one day this technology would down to the public. Now, this has actually happened!  These mechanical engineering students from New York City College of Technology created the robot from scratch at an affordable cost. They needed to deal with mechanical and electronic as well as manufacturing parts. And they only took 3 months to build everything. This just amazes me.


The TOBiAS team will also represent the U.S. at the Digilent Design Contest Worldwide Finals at Shanghai, China, on August 1, 2014. Good luck to them. Projects from all the Digilent Design Contests, including documentation, are available at Digilent Design Contest website


I really enjoy the design contests and can’t wait for next year. If you want to participate the next year’s design contest, follow the Digilent Design Contest website.

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