Wii could mean a safer workplace

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 @ 09:04 PM gHale

Remote-control devices from the Wii gaming console could actually work to improve manufacturing processes.

By using the devices, called Wiimotes, to record an assembly process, the goal is to improve the way companies train workers, shorten cycle time, reduce workplace injuries, and help manufacturers improve the way they communicate with plants across the globe.

[private]The Wiimote has wireless communication, covers a good measurement range and is very inexpensive. Just as gamers can use the Wiimote to simulate the movements of a tennis racquet or bowling ball, so a properly situated Wiimote camera can capture movements of an assembly-line worker throughout a variety of processes.

“The Wiimotes allow us to easily capture motion in the assembly process wirelessly,” said Dr. Ming Leu, the Keith and Pat Bailey Missouri Distinguished Professor of Integrated Product Manufacturing at Missouri University of Science and Technology. “We can track that motion, analyze the processes and make improvements based on the data generated through the motion-capture.”

The Wiimote camera works by detecting an infrared signal that latches onto light-emitting diode (LED) sensors and tracks the movement. In Leu’s process, workpieces, assembly tools, robots or other machines, as well as assembly-line workers, would all have LEDs the Wiimote cameras can track. A manufacturer could mount any number of infrared cameras based on the Wiimote throughout a factory to capture and record movements.

Leu is exploring the feasibility of this idea by recording a manufacturing process under way in his home department of mechanical and aerospace engineering. A group of students in that department is fabricating a microsatellite as part of a design project.

Leu has set up the Wiimotes to track its assembly process in lab space of Missouri S&T’s Center for Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies (CAMT), located in Toomey Hall on campus. Leu is the director of CAMT, a consortium of aerospace manufacturers and suppliers that works with the university and the Air Force to develop new and optimized approaches to aerospace manufacturing.

The idea for using the Wiimotes actually came from engineers at Boeing, the CAMT’s major partner, who told Leu about some earlier research with Wii components at Carnegie Mellon University.

Down the road, Leu sees the potential for a Wiimote-based recording and monitoring system that will not only improve manufacturing processes on the factory floor, but also can provide training for employees in remote locations.[/private]

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