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What is Mechatronics Engineering?

Mechatronics systems are present everywhere today, from aircraft flight control and navigation systems to drones to car airbag safety systems to robots to smart home appliances and even some toys. 

mechatronics system-aircraft flight control and navigation
Aircraft Flight Control and Navigation System
mechatronics system-drones
a Drone
mechatronics-system-airbag-car-saftey-system
The car airbag safety system is a Mechatronics system.
industrial-robot-arms-mechatronics-systems
Industrial robot arms are Mechatronics systems.
robot-vacuum-cleaner
Smart Home Appliances: a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner
smart toys-robotic toy arm
a Robotic Toy Arm

These systems are all familiar to us. But, what exactly is Mechatronics? 

Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and chemical engineering were the primary engineering disciplines of the 20th century.

traditional engineering disciplines
Primary engineering disciplines of the 20th century are civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and electrical engineering.

But the formal boundaries of traditional engineering changed after the advent of integrated circuits and computers.

 semiconductor-technology-new-engineering
A breakthrough in semiconductor electronics and the use of integrated circuits and computers changed the boundaries of traditional engineering disciplines.

Mechatronics is a field of study that combines electronics and mechanical components with modern controls and microprocessors. As a matter of fact, every newly designed engineering product is a Mechatronics system. The word Mechatronics was coined in Japan in the 1960s, spread through Europe, and then took off in the United States. 

A Mechatronics system is sometimes called a smart device because it combines logic, feedback, and computation in a complex design to simulate the human thinking process.

Now the question is what do Mechatronics system engineers do?

Mechatronics system engineers design and select analog and digital circuits, microprocessor-based components, mechanical devices, sensors, actuators, and controls (for example, embedding microcontrollers into electromechanical devices) so that the final product meets a specified goal.

what does a mechatronics system engineer do
A mechatronics system engineer selects analog and digital circuits, microprocessor-based components, mechanical devices, sensors, actuators, and controls so that the final product meets a specified purpose.

Let’s now take a look at the main parts of a mechatronic system. 

The following figure illustrates the main components of a mechatronic system:

components of a mechatronics system
Components of a Mechatronics system. Adapted from the textbook in references.

Motion/action is produced by actuators. Sensors detect the state of system parameters, inputs, and outputs. For example, a sensor can measure the position or velocity of the motor. This signal is then given to the control system after conditioning. The conditioning and interfacing circuits connect the control circuits with the input/output devices. The control system inputs the control signal and the actuator motion can be controlled accordingly. The user interface enables manual inputs and provides graphical displays or visual feedback.

In the following lessons, we will examine these components in greater detail.

A fundamental part of many mechatronic systems is a measurement system. Elements of a measurement system are depicted in the figure below:

elements of a measurement system
Elements of a measurement system. Adapted from the textbook in references.

Generally, a transducer is a sensing element that converts a physical input into an output (usually a voltage). The signal processor performs filtering, amplification, or other signal conditioning on the transducer output. A recorder is an instrument, a computer, or an output device that stores or displays sensor data for monitoring or subsequent analysis. The term sensor refers either to the transducer or to the transducer plus signal processor.

Let’s look at an example of a Mechatronics system with all the components we discussed. 

A robot vacuum cleaner is an autonomous machine that automatically maneuvers itself around the room to clean it. A spinning brush and a vacuum are used to pick up dirt, as with a conventional cleaner. The two large wheels are driven independently by two separate electric motors.

a robotic vacuum cleaner
A robotic vacuum cleaner is a mechatronic system composed of various components.

It can also have other actuators like a suction motor, side brush motor or brush roll motor.

motors in a robotic vacuum cleaner
Other actuators in a robotic vacuum cleaner.

Different onboard sensors enable the robot vacuum cleaner to move autonomously, detecting dirt, avoiding obstacles, and avoiding things like tassels on rugs and telephone cords.

robot vacuum cleaner obstacle avoidance
Robotic vacuum cleaner obstacle avoidance. Courtesy of Lesics

Sensors can detect walls and obstacles, then send signals to the control unit so the robotic vacuum cleaner slows down or changes direction.

robot vacuum cleaner control board
When walls or obstacles are detected, sensors send signals to the control unit for the robotic vacuum cleaner to slow down or change direction. Courtesy of Lesics

Furthermore, stairs and steep drops can be detected by sensors under the robot to prevent catastrophic events.

robot vacuum cleaner stair detection sensors
Under the robot are sensors that detect stairs and steep drops in order to prevent catastrophic events. Courtesy of Lesics

Many new versions of autonomous robotic vacuum cleaners use VSLAM (Vision Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) to map rooms using onboard cameras to gradually gain a picture of where the cleaner goes and where it has been cleaning, leading to a more straight-line cleaning than random cleaning.

robot vacuum cleaner Vision Simultaneous Localization and Mapping VSLAM
VSLAM (Vision Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) for a Robot Vacuum Cleaner.

Thus, a robot vacuum cleaner can be viewed as a mechatronic system made up of the components discussed.

Are there any mechatronic systems that you are familiar with? Can you identify their different components? Please share your answers with us and other Mecharithm family members in the comment section. 

That’s going to wrap up today’s lesson. We hope you have a good understanding of the definition of mechatronics. We will begin with the fundamentals of mechatronics in the next lesson. Please stay tuned!

The video version of the current lesson can be watched at the link below:

References:

Textbook:
Introduction to Mechatronics and Measurement Systems 5th Edition
Other references:
https://www.johnsonelectric.com/en
https://www.youtube.com/Lesics
https://www.youtube.com/VacuumWars
https://mechatronics.colostate.edu/resources/

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