Neil's Projects

Research Projects

The majority of my research has been dedicated to the Precision Flexible Factory Floor project, advised by Dr. Howie Choset. This work aims to replace inflexible assembly lines with distributed assembly on a set of modular bases.

Coordinated Multi-Agent Carrying

One goal of the Precision Flexible Factory Floor project is to enable the transportation of large assemblies with a distributed set of agents. Instead of using cranes, a set of robots can carry the piece from point to point.

Thanks to the passive capabilty of the Hybrid Passive-Active Manipulators (see below), the robots can move without exerting stress on the assembly. One agent in the active mode can act as a master unit, guiding the other slaved robots.

Humans are also capable of working together with these robots. As demonstrated at the end of the video, a human operator can guide the otherwise unwieldy piece with a relatively light grip. The sensing and actuation of the robots does the rest.

Hybrid Passive-Active Manipulator

The Hybrid Passive-Active Manipulator is part of the Precision Flexible Factory Floor project. Because the mobile robot bases will never be 100% accurate, additional techniques are required for manipulation tasks. Fine manipulation can move objects to desired locations, but has little flexibility. Compliant members can adjust to fit into locations naturally, but cannot be actuated.

The Hybrid Passive-Active Manipulator gets the best of both worlds. In the active mode, the manipulator can move in three axes with millimeter precision using lead screws. But the lead screw mating can be released to put the manipulator in passive mode, where the x and y axes can move compliantly.

I designed all of the electronics and software for the manipulator, including serial interfaces with the Syndicate architecture used for the overall project. In the video, you can see both the passive/compliant mode and the active/fine manipulation mode. The system also includes a suction cup and vaccuum pump for sealing to flat objects.

Low-Level Position Control for Omni-Directional Bases in a Manufacturing Environment

Symposium Poster

For my Senior Honors Thesis, I developed a dead-reckoning algorithm to estimate the position of the omni-directional bases and a control algorithm that used the position estimates to move from waypoint to waypoint, closing the loop.

This project was presented at the Meeting of the Minds Research Symposium at Carnegie Mellon, and was the recipient of the $1000 Boeing Blue Skies Award.

Class Projects

Mechatronic Design

Team Website

Final Report

Mechatronic Design is a capstone course focusing on the integration of mechanisms, electronics, and computer control.

My team and I designed and built a robot to automatically identify colored targets at ten foot range, adjust orientation, hop discs from storage, and hit targets accurately, precisely, and quickly. We placed second in class competition and received nomination for David Tuma Laboratory Project Award.

Sensor Systems Design

Presentation Poster

Final Report

In the Sensor Systems Design capstone course, Rentaro Matsukata and I created a sensor system capable of detection and position estimation of electrical cables in walls. The time-varying current of the AC power lines creates a weak magnetic field. With an array of inductive coils with ferrite cores, we successfully picked up the signal and estimated the position of cables within walls.

Snake Charming: Constrained Kinematics for Unstable Manipulator Bases


For our class project in Kinematics, Dynamics, and Controls, Ellen Cappo, Steven Ford, and I worked to develop a constrained inverse kinematics solution for the modular snake robot.

A common task for the snake robot is headlook, where the operator uses the head module to look around the environment. This position is very stable, because 4 modules are used to look around, while 12 remain on the ground. But the vantage point is not very high.

For a better vantage point, we develop an approach using constrained inverse kinematics that would bring the head high into the air while controling movement and maintaining balance.

Inverted Pendulum

For our final project in Embedded Control Systems, Geri Ilieva and I designed a state-space controller for an inverted pendulum. The blue pendulum is free to move and has no actuation. The only motor is on the rotary base. Using feedback from an encoder on the pendulum, we were able to control the pendulum and keep it in an upright position. The system was able to go from rest to upright and reject significant disturbances.

Other Projects


In the first week back from winter break, the ECE students don't have any lab and have lots of free time. So we go to lab for the Build18 Hackathon!

In 2013 my team engineered AC power pass-through nodes that monitored usage and switched power via Wi-Fi. From our laptop, we could monitor and control lights in the demo room and in the Robotics Club all the way across campus. We won the Outstanding Project Award, which was chosen by industry sponsors.