Research: Programming Robot Movement using Autodesk Maya

Many of you may be familiar with Evan Atherton as an award-winning filmmaker:

Filmmaking is just a hobby for Evan. For his day job, Evan uses his mechanical engineering degree as an applied researcher at our Pier 9 technology center in San Francisco. Evan's been working with Autodesk Maya and robots.

There are very few ways to program and interact with industrial robot arms. One of our driving goals is to create more intuitive and flexible tools for robotic control that open up their use to a broader community (i.e., architecture, construction, art, etc.) and make programming more efficient for traditional users.

Mimic is a plug-in for Maya that gives users easy and direct control of 6-axis industrial robots via Maya’s built-in animation tools. It allows the user to pick from the eight different IK configurations, and switch between Inverse and Forward Kinematics. It is fully immersed in the Maya ecosystem, so the user has access to the complete Maya animation toolset to create complex robot motion. With Mimic, anyone who has access to Maya and some animation experience can program industrial robot arms.

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Here's an example of Evan using the plug-in to control two robots: one moves a camera and the other moves an object, in this case, a replica of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. (How did he ever pick that?)

You can see that the synchronized movements of both robots result in exactly the right camera shots. Lights, camera, action!

The Maya Mimic plug-in is still be perfected as part of the design innovation work being done at Pier 9. Our ultimate goal is to make a collection of robot control services available via Autodesk Forge. Look for additional developments in the future. Autodesk software helps people make more things, make them better, and make them with less. Mimic has the potential to help filmmakers make more and better films in less time.

Movement research is alive in the lab.