PhD student Mohammad Shaqura finalist for the Best Student Paper Award at ICMA 2017

CEMSE Ph.D. student Mohammad Shaqura was recently selected as a finalist for the Best Student Paper Award at the IEEE International Conference on Mechatronics and Automation, ICMA 2017. The paper was among 10 finalists out of over 500 papers for various ICMA awards.

Shaqura, a Mechanical Engineering student in Prof. Shamma's Robotics, Intelligent Systems & Control (RISC) laboratory, was selected for his article "A Novel Gripper Design for Multi Hand Tools Grasping Under Tight Clearance Constraints and External Torque Effect".

"The focus of my research is developing robotic solutions to assist human-based operations in a vast array of precision and hazardous applications," says Shaqura. "Nowadays, robotic manipulators can be commonly found along industrial assembly lines, employed in medical applications and used wherever environmental conditions are so extreme to make exploration impossible for humans."

This is not the first time the RISC lab is recognized for its research in robotics. In March 2017, Prof. Shamma and his team took the 3rd place finish in the inaugural Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge held in Abu Dhabi, UAE. "Actually the design and performance of our gripper were tested live at the MBZIRC itself, where team KAUST took 3rd place behind University of Bonn, Germany and Technical University of Denmark. The challenge was an opportunity to check our system performing in a controlled environment and benchmark the efficacy of our solutions against other models. I believe that my nomination for the Best Paper Award at ICMA 2017 was the result of our performance at MBZIRC."

Shaqura's gripper is just one element of a larger system composed of sensorial and motion devices. "In everyday life, people do not realize the complexity of simple gestures: they come naturally to us. In robotics, on the other hand, we need to understand and mechanically reproduce all those automatisms that make our movements so straightforward. We targeted providing our gripper with ways to perceive and navigate the environment as well as measure and control the effects of its movements. "The gripper was mounted on an "arm", the mobile robotic manipulator platform UR5, and "legs", actually a ground vehicle, the Husky UGV. The two platforms account for three-dimensional movements of the robot. Other devices such as a video camera and sensors to measure the distance from objects, motion, and torque were used to provide vision and proprioception during the manipulative interaction.

"What makes our robotic gripper versatile is that it is able to handle tools of different sizes in limited clearance space and, most important, with reduced control requirements," explains Shaqura.

At present, scientific literature offers many robotic solutions able to simulate human grasping but they all come at the cost of increased complexities of sensing, processing, and control. Shaqura's goal was to keep operational complexity to a minimum while improving the handling precision, especially in operations under counter torques such as the ones needed to turn a valve.

Shaqura plans to further improve his robotic gripper include working on small adjustments in the hardware and software subsystems. "I am thinking of ways to add flexibility to the mechanism and testing different materials to improve the grip force while minimizing the risk of slip. Improving the sensing data fusion will also enhance the manipulation skills of the system," concludes Shaqura.

After receiving his bachelor degree in Control and Instrumentation Systems Engineering from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), Shaqura moved to KAUST to pursue graduate studies in Mechanical Engineering in 2011. He completed the MS degree in 2012 and is currently a Ph.D. student under the supervision of Professor of Electrical Engineering Jeff Shamma.