Remote possibility

Devices that harness the Nintendo Wii’s motion-sensing capabilities could improve assembly-line tracking

In an effort to improve industrial manufacturing processes, researchers in the US have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: the Nintendo Wii.

Headed by Prof Ming Leu, the team from Missouri’s Science and Technology Centre for Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies is using components from the games console to track movements along pilot production lines.

The application exploits the motion-sensing capabilities of the Wii’s remote controller – or Wiimote – which enables gamers to interact with and manipulate items on screen via gesture recognition and pointing.

In Leu’s application, the devices are being used to record assembly processes and investigate ways of improving the methods companies use to train workers, shorten cycle time, reduce workplace injuries and help manufacturers improve the way they communicate with plants across the globe.

Leu explained that he chose the Wiimotes because of their wireless connectivity, their good measurement range and their relatively low cost.
Outlining the devices’ industrial application, Leu said that, just as gamers can use the Wiimote to simulate the movements of a tennis racquet or bowling ball, so a properly situated device can capture the movements of an assembly-line worker through a variety of processes.

’The Wiimotes allow us to easily capture motion in the assembly process wirelessly,’ said Leu. ’We can track that motion, analyse 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 be equipped with LEDs that the Wiimote cameras can track. Any number of infrared cameras based on the Wiimote could be mounted 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 department, where a group of students is fabricating a microsatellite for a project.

Leu said that the idea for using the Wiimotes came from engineers at Boeing, who told Leu about some earlier research with Wii components at Carnegie Mellon University.

He also envisions Wiimote-based recording and monitoring systems that will improve manufacturing processes on the factory floor and provide training for employees in remote locations.