Interfacing Handheld Computers to Mobile Robots

Robert Avanzato

Penn State Abington has been exploring the application of handheld technology to the interface and control of autonomous mobile robots for educational purposes. The handheld or personal digital assistant (PDA) is an inexpensive computer that supports a wide range of mobile software applications, and features serial, infrared, and RF communication capabilities. In one application, undergraduate students have developed handheld-based autonomous robots for several robot design competitions. One of the benefits of the handheld-based robot is that students can enter and modify software directly on the handheld computer at the "point of operation" without the need of laptops or desktop PCs. In a second application, students investigated human-computer interface (HCI) design issues by controlling a robot remotely using the IR capabilities of a handheld. This technology has applications in areas such as mobile data collection, entertainment, emergency response, search and rescue, and assisted-living support. This paper will describe the laboratory setup required to implement these activities, present key results, and discuss the educational benefits of the handheld approach to mobile robot control.

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