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Some steps further with the omnidirectional robot

In this article, we’ll focus on the driving behavior of the robot. Indeed, we need it to be as accurate as possible in every of his moves and we need it to be able to go in every direction. So we’ll explain here how the robot is supposed to move without turning and how we implemented the movement system accordingly.

How can we get rid of the rotation ?

Mathematical point of view or how to “mettre les mains dans le cambouis”

Basically, the kiwi drive is just a point on which we apply three different rotations. The question is “how should we settle the rotations (i.e. power applied to the motors) so as to ensure a translation instead of a clumsy rotation”.

If we use the complex notation for planar geometry, a rotation would be in the form of the following equation, with being the image of  by the rotation of center  and angle θ.

If we compose two rotations, we’ll get the following equation

We put this equation (4) in that special form so as to show that if we have θ + θ ‘ = 0, the first exponential term is equal to one and thus we obtain z ‘ ‘ = z + a   ; which is the formula of a translation in complex notation. We can see that the composition of two rotations is a translation as long as the sum of the rotation angles is equal to zero. This is very understandable; indeed if we compose two opposite rotations we have a translation, as everybody who has already driven a car may have noticed… The problem is that we compose three rotations for the kiwi drive: do we get the same result? Well, let’s just look at that.

Once more with (6), we can see that θ + θ ‘+ θ ‘ ‘ = 0 induces a translation. This could have been easily anticipated knowing that planar rotations form a group (mathematically speaking; namely that a composition of two rotation is either a rotation or a translation) and therefore, our result for two rotations would be expandable for three. At this point we knew that keeping this sum equal to zero was primary in order to ensure the reliability of the kiwi drive and that corrections like PID would be a major and powerful tool to use.

Physical point of view or how to prevent and correct errors

If the physics could stick to the mathematical theory, well first we would not be forced to make obscures approximations and inconvenient assumptions but in our case, our robot would never turn on itself if we respect the condition “the sum of the rotations must be equal to zero”. Unfortunately due to imperfection purpose (robot construction not 100% robust, friction, measurement errors, etc), we’re forced to face the case that the robot might and will change its orientation within the time. In order to counteract this issue, we came out with a simple system. We’ve implemented a thread running all the time (but can still disabled for testing or manual driving purpose) which samples the motors position thanks to the method Motor.MOTOR_PORT.getTachoCount(): and if the sum of every motor is different to the reference it should have, we command the robot to make a gentle counter rotation.

Here is some code in which you can see the way we counter the rotation using a PI correction (soon to be PID or PD, according to the result obtained we’ll have with our new omniwheels):

    noRotInt += noRot;  // Integral term
    noRot = ref - getMotorTachoCountSum(); // Proportional Term
    corRot = noRot*getCm().getFactorP() + noRotInt*getCm().getFactorI(); // PI Correction
    getCm().setRotationPower(corRot); // Apply counter rotation
    getCm().refreshMotors(); // Apply new powers to motors
public int getMotorTachoCountSum(){
    return Motor.A.getTachoCount() + Motor.B.getTachoCount() + Motor.C.getTachoCount();

How do we make the robot move ?

The first thing we wanted the robot to do was to go in a direction within a certain range. Then we implemented a Cartesian referential (so as to be more convenient for the flock behavior implementation later) simply by changing the base. So for the implementation, we had to ask ourselves:

  • what is the power to give to each motor so as to respect the condition “the sum of every rotation angle must be equal to zero”;
  • when and how the robot should stop;
  • how to interpret several commands (stack or “last command prevails” behavior).


In order to do deal with the powers, we knew that for any movement, each motor has to rotate different amount of degrees (in the major part of all the cases) in the same amount of time. Thus, motors’ power had to be different without making the robot rotate on itself. At this point, we tried to apply powers to each motors with the sum of powers equals to zero. And the results went better than expected because it was working pretty well. We had to take care of the low powers (because the robot wasn’t moving that much between 0 and 20) simply by applying a scale factor.

So as to be functional, every motor has to rotate a certain amount of degree (we’ll say that the motor A has to rotate a degrees, b degrees for B and c degrees for C) and respect a+b+c=0 (we write “0” in order to be coherent with our reasoning but in reality, it’s equal to the very first value sampled by getMotorTachoCountSum() written above). The point of this equation is that it has to be true at every moment of the movement. So we made a graph that shows the percentage of progress of each motor, without correction in order to picture how accurate the system could be.

Percentage of progress of each motor over a movement of 2 meters with no correction. The motors are however regulating themselves with the method Motor.MOTOR_PORT.regulateSpeed(true)

Showing this graph was important in order to jump over the second question, which tends to find out how to stop the robot. The first and naive way would be to stop the movement as soon as the three motors completed their movements, i.e. when the line  (letting the first two one continuing rotating till the last one ends). Problem is, when one of the motors is under very low-speed, he may never complete his rotation or complete it instantaneously. So waiting for three motors led to infinite movement, waiting for one led to premature stops and waiting for two was just perfect because in any movement, the robot is supposed to use two motors with reasonable (>20) powers.

Concerning the commands behavior, we had to adopt a fusion of “last command prevails” and the stack behavior so as to be able to merge autonomous and manual movements.

Testing the robot

Here is two videos about the robot making a rectangle (simple succession of four commands) without and with PI correction.

Without correction With PI correction


As you can see, the system is quite more accurate with the PI correction. Nonetheless, it is still not reliable and does not fit our project requirements. We’ve been trying to tune the PI (/PID) and obtained more or less satisfying results but still not that acceptable. But we got a very nice surprise at the end of the last week: we received the Rotacaster omniwheels and tried it. We don’t want to spoil the next article, but the accuracy should not be a major issue from now on. We’re still delivering a picture of the measurement for the errors in order to give you an idea of the impact of the correction (knowing that the robot is supposed to make a square of side sqrt(2), so more than 7 meters).


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