Kinematic optimization of upgrade to the Hobby Eberly Telescope through novel use of commercially available three dimensional CAD package
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The University of Texas, Center for Electromechanics (UT-CEM) is making a major upgrade to the robotic tracking system on the Hobby Eberly Telescope (HET) as part of the Wide Field Upgrade (WFU). The upgrade focuses on a seven-fold increase in payload and necessitated a complete redesign of all tracker supporting structure and motion control systems, including the tracker bridge, ten drive systems, carriage frames, a hexapod, and many other subsystems. The cost and sensitivity of the scientific payload, coupled with the tracker system mass increase, necessitated major upgrades to personnel and hardware safety systems. To optimize kinematic design of the entire tracker, UT-CEM developed novel uses of constraints and drivers to interface with a commercially available CAD package (SolidWorks). For example, to optimize volume usage and minimize obscuration, the CAD software was exercised to accurately determine tracker/hexapod operational space needed to meet science requirements. To verify hexapod controller models, actuator travel requirements were graphically measured and compared to well defined equations of motion for Stewart platforms. To ensure critical hardware safety during various failure modes, UT-CEM engineers developed Visual Basic drivers to interface with the CAD software and quickly tabulate distance measurements between critical pieces of optical hardware and adjacent components for thousands of possible hexapod configurations. These advances and techniques, applicable to any challenging robotic system design, are documented and describe new ways to use commercially available software tools to more clearly define hardware requirements and help insure safe operation.