A tail of Engineering success

You would have seen, and probably even used, a robot vacuum cleaner or robotic cleaning vehicle.  And of course you know what a dog is.  So why not combine their powers and put them both together to produce a robotic cleaning dog?

That’s exactly what two Engineering students did.  Working with their counterparts from other polytechnics, they researched, conceptualised, designed, and assembled a cleaning robot with a protruding tail inspired by a dog.

Now, why would a robot need a tail?  According to the students’ research, the tail is a vital tool used by dogs to communicate with human beings – a dog wagging its tail, for instance, denotes excitement, positive anticipation and happiness.

Leveraging on the same idea, the students designed a cleaning robot with a 3D-printed tail that wags when sensors detect a human being, curls in shame when an error is made, and points at a particular direction to indicate its intended path.  In addition, the tip of the tail can also be used as a charging port, a vacuum cleaning nozzle, or a socket to attach an LED light.

Besides improving safety by reducing the possibility of accidents, the tail-equipped cleaning robot, which resembles a dog, also helps to enhance human beings’ acceptance of the robot by leveraging on our familiarity with the domestic animal.  In an era when robots are invading almost every corner of our lives – literally – the retention of any semblance of life, is certainly welcome.

The students’ invention, called “The Emotive Tail”, earned the Bronze award at the Compact 3.007 Best Design Project held on 28 Mar 2019.

The two TP students, from the Diploma in Mechatronics and Diploma in Computer Engineering, were part of a team which comprised 5 students from different diploma courses at different polytechnics.  They had attended a 3-week training module which exposed them to core technology and design themes, conducted by SUTD.