16-311: Philosophy Behind the Labs

Self-paced collaborative lab projects will compliment the weekly lectures of Intro to Robotics. Whereas the lectures emphasize the underlying math and algorithms of each sub-discipline of robotics, the projects will emphasize the pragmatic facets of implementing robotic and mechatronic devices. The labs give students an education that go well beyond robotics into fields like control, embedded systems, programming, signal processing, interfacing, and electronics.

These robotics labs will provide unique a multi-disciplinary forum, where groups of three students, each from a different discipline, will comprise a lab team. This means, undergraduates in one discipline will have to learn how to talk with and work with people from the other disciplines. Moreover, students in one discipline will experience first-hand how their particular specialty impacts and interacts with a multi-disciplinary project. This course provides one of the few opportunities for undergraduates to collaborate among the different disciplines.

The goal of these labs is to strike a balance between giving undergraduates instructions and preventing them from spinning their wheels on details. Recently, there has been a trend in the science community for hands-on projects, but most of these projects result in robotic - following - the - directions, like pour test-tube-A into test-tube B. So, although students' hands are on, their heads are off [M. Reznik, 1996]. Instead, we want the students to critically think and explore the new thought space as they learn the underlying principles and practical implementation issues. These Lego-based labs serve as an ideal tool to meet this goal.

These collaborative lab projects will present a new innovative way of using technology to increase student learning in Engineering and Computer Science. While this has roots in the classic concept of learning-while-doing, recent advances in microprocessor technology and portable computing have provided tools that were previously unavailable.

Each week, lectures will cover the underlying math and algorithms of each sub-discipline of robotics. Recitations will address the practical issues that enable students to accomplish their lab assignments. The following is a list of the weekly assignments. At the end of the semester, the course will have a public competition where students in the class can use their Lego kits or machine their own parts to build a mechanism.

The following lab assignments will be distributed to the class via the web. In addition to specifying the assignments themselves, the web distribution will provide access to additional information that some students may require, in the form of web pages we create and those that are available. In this way, we do not flood the students with too much information, and those who require more, simply click on the appropriate link. As a result of the web-distribution, the lab assignments are better structured. Finally, web distribution allows instructors, students, and hobbyists outside of the CMU community to benefit from our experience with these labs.