As part of their graduation requirements, all engineering students must take part in a year-long design project during their fourth year. These projects allow the students to apply many of the skills they have learned during their degree in a setting analogous to real-world engineering work. At Carleton University, students may choose from a number of large, long-running projects. This system allows for more complex projects to be undertaken.
The Carleton University Simulator Project began in 2002 with the goal of developing a novel simulator platform, free from the physical restrictions of traditional designs. The current design, the Atlas motion platform, is unique in that it may rotate freely in any direction. A traditional Gough-Stewart platform provides three-dimensional translation, while rotation is provided by mecanum wheels acting on a spherical shell containing the simulated cockpit. This unique design allows the platform to recreate situations such as inversions or spins that are not feasible in a standard flight simulator.
The translational motion of Atlas is provided by an industry standard Gough-Stewart platform. While these platforms are capable of motion in 6 degrees of freedom, Atlas uses only the three translational modes, providing rotation with its unique actuated sphere design. The translational stage of Atlas has been selected, purchased, and is currently installed in one of the engineering labs at Carleton University.
Rotational motion is provided by three powered mecanum wheels acting on a spherical shell. The mecanum wheels allow the sphere to rotate freely in any direction. In addition to the powered wheels, two rings 12 of passive wheels will help to bear the load of the shell and constrain its motion. All wheel design is being carried out in house. The active wheel design is undergoing testing, and manufacturing of the passive wheels is underway.
The simulator cockpit sits inside a 9 foot diameter sphere composed of 4 composite panels. The panels are reinforced by an internal structure of ribs, and two circular hatches on opposite ends of the sphere allow access to the interior. Because of the unlimited range of motion, it is impossible to run any wired connections to the sphere. As such, the cockpit controls, screen, lights, and simulation software are all powered by an internal battery. Much of the internal structure, including the floor and support ribbing, has already been designed and manufactured.
While the vehicle simulation is run inside the sphere, all of the motion control must take place from the outside. Additionally, battery life may be extended by reducing the amount of computing required by the internal PC. As such, CUSP has developed a method of wirelessly distributing the computing between the internal computer and the external control console.
In addition to the simulation software, a novel orientation detection system has been developed. A camera detects a number of circular bar codes spaced across the surface of the sphere and uses their positions to calculate the orientation of the simulator. This positional data is then combined with information from an inertial sensor placed inside the sphere to determine the current position and motion.
For more information on the design of the Atlas simulation platform, please refer to the following paper, presented at the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering International Congress, 2012.