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Son of Toby

Robotic Arm Project

A student research project supported by the Drury University Physics Department , in conjunction with the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.


The young astronauts try to manuever the Tobyzilla arm to make it draw a circle.

Kids trying to make Tobyzilla write it's own name: "Son of Toby."

Kids playing with Tobyzilla.

In order to make our demonstrations more interactive, particularly for our younger audiences, we developed a large scale arm (nicknamed Tobyzilla) that is controlled by pulling attached ropes. The design is nearly identical to our small scale experimental 2-degree-of-freedom robotic arm, except this arm is driven by people rather than servos. The large scale arm is twelve feet long and the entire apparatus weighs over two hundred pounds. The arm moves in the horizontal plane and has wheels to support it's massive weight. Our group gave an interactive demonstration to the local Young Astronauts Club during which the club members utilized planning and teamwork to execute planned trajectories, while learning how muscles power the movement of the human arm. Note that we have signed waivers from the students and their parents, (not included but available on request) allowing them to have their photographs used in our website. The interactivity of this demonstration appealed to the children's curiosity, and kept them engaged until their parents took them home. The success of this demonstration was exciting for our research team. As a final, most difficult challenge, a dry-erase marker was attached to the end of the arm, and the students attempted to make the arm write "Son of Toby" in cursive script on a large piece of paper on the floor. They found this to be a very difficult task. Interestingly, our first attempts to have Son of Toby (the model arm for NASA flight) write its name on a virtual white board met with similar troubles, due to unpredicted oscillations that we hope to damp out by inducing frictional effects to the apparatus.

The '09-'10 team presenting the 1-degree-of-freedom arm to Drury University faculty and students at the Fall, '09 poster session.

We already have two more interactive demonstrations planned for February. Science classes from Springfield Central High School, which serves a proportionally high number of minority students, will be attending demonstrations this month. We will also bring our large scale arm to the Discovery Center, a small local science museum, during 'engineering week' in mid-February.

Young astronauts attempting to draw the workspace of Tobyzilla.

Young astronauts attempting to bend Tobyzilla's elbow by 90 degrees.

Young astronauts attempting to make Tobyzilla follow a straight line.

Young astronauts try to maneuver the tobyzilla to write "Son of Toby."