ITL Apprentice James Knight completes final project at University of Greenwich

ITL has long been proud of its apprenticeship scheme, which has led to several alumni now being successful members of ITL’s staff in a range of teams throughout the Group.

April 26th, saw James Knight present his final year project in pursuit of his BEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technology which has been a one-day a week course over the past five years, sponsored and supported by ITL.

Here, the talented young apprentice explained what was required of him:

Q: WHAT WAS THE TECHNICAL BRIEF OF YOUR PROJECT FROM YOUR COURSE SUPERVISOR?

The control multi joint arms is easier if each joint has its own controller, communicating via a serial bus between each other and to a controller node. The engineer will have to learn about microprocessors and communication. They will have to understand how to interface the electronics to the processor. They will have to understand the basics of control and robot motion.

Each joint has a separate microprocessor controller. It will control a single motor/axis, take in four analogue channels, plus the data from an accelerometer chip. It will then communicate via a wired bus interface to a master controller. Data and information will be streamed to an outside monitor program (PC or Tablet).

Deliverables

Phase 1 - Program controller board and build it into a two-joint arm. A PID controller will be then created for one joint at a time. The controller will compensate for gravity acting on the arm segment, using data from the accelerometers.

Phase 2 - The two axes will be programmed to perform coordinated motion linked via a CAN bus.

Phase 3 - The ease of use of the coordinated motion will then tested by asking subjects to move the arm to defined positions in space.

Q: WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE THIS SUBJECT FOR YOUR PROJECT?

My day to day role at ITL has involved working with electronic hardware and the design of circuitry for instruments. Most of the circuits designed at ITL involve some sort of microcontroller.

Previously I had had no experience in programming these microcontrollers so I wanted to expand my ability and learn some new skills that would benefit both me and the company. Over the last eight months of working on my project, I have gone from just about being able to turn on an LED, to now being able to implement a modular firmware system that can carry out various tasks such as – motor drive, motor speed control, analogue to digital conversion, sensor data filtering, CAN bus communications, PID control and serial PC communication to name but a few.

The project also has a medical side, being based on prosthetic limbs, so seemed like a good fit for ITL as a medical device manufacturer.

Q: HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THIS AS PART OF YOUR FINAL YEAR GRADE?

The final year project makes up over 50% of my final year grade. It is also heavily looked upon by the examination board and external examiners to get a feel for the ability of the student when assigning final degree grades. At the start of our projects, it was explained to us that the final degree grade does not usually vary from the final year project grade by more than a few percent so achieving a good final year project grade bodes well for the final degree grade.

Q: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Now that I’ve completed my final exam (Engineering Management), I am a free man! I would like to keep up some work on robotics and prosthetic limbs in my spare time as I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I have spent working on the project….although I am looking forward to a little rest first.

Q: HAS WORKING AT ITL DURING YOUR STUDIES HELPED YOU IN THIS PROJECT?

Definitely – but not just over the course of my project. Over the last five years I have been supported by the company in so many different ways. From simply sponsoring my course; the time I have been given off work each week to attend university; the support of my technical colleagues and their help with any technical challenges that I have faced. The work that I do at ITL has also given me a background into the academic subjects I have studied – I don’t think attaining a degree would have been possible without these things.

Purely talking about the project – the support of my colleagues such as Salah (helping me to get started with coding in C), Mike Hogben (reviewing bits of code for me and pointing me in the right direction when I got stuck) and the whole of the ITL R&D department have been great. Always there to lend a hand when I needed it.

And a word from us:

Tom Cole, Chief Executive Officer added:

“James has been a model student since joining the company and has become a valued member of the R&D team. His attention to detail and excellent working attitude is a great example to any new apprentice at ITL or elsewhere, and I am very proud to see him achieve this milestone in his career.”

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