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91.548 Robot Design Spring 2004

Prof. Fred G. Martin
Olsen 208 (office)
Olsen 306 (lab)
978/934–1964 (office phone)

Thursday evenings, 5:30 pm – 8:15 pm, OS 412 and OS 306

We will typically meet first in 412 for lecture/discussion and then move to 306 for lab during class hours.

The class is scheduled for 2.5 instructional hours. We will take a 15 minute break in the middle and end (officially) at 8:15.

Office Hours
Monday 3:30 – 4:30 pm, OS 306
Wednesday 1:00 – 3:00 pm, OS 208

Course Web Site URL

The class will make use of two books:

There will be additional handouts of reading and reference material.

Discussion Site URL

There will be a discussion site / bulletin board for the class. It will be linked from the course home page.

Philosophical Overview

This class takes a broad view of what “robotics” means. For our purposes, robotic systems are systems that interact with people, each other, and the world around them, using sensors, actuators, communications, and a control program.

The term “robot,” is too mentally confining. The images that come to mind when someone says “robot” is likely one or the other of: factory automation (assembly lines and mechanical arms), humanoid robotics (e.g., C3PO), and mobile robots (BattleBots and the like).

While all of these things clearly are robots, by my definition and thinking, so too are:

  • musical light shows, particularly ones that may incorporate environmental sensing or sound processing into their control the equipment's movement and illumination;

  • highway monitoring and control systems, with distributed nets of traffic sensors, ways of redirecting traffic, and human-supervised control logic;

  • hydroponic farms, with chemical sensors and environmental controllers;

  • exercise machines, which incorporate body sensors and other features to monitor and guide human performance.

Practical Overview

The course will be a combination of a hands-on, project-based class and a graduate reading and discussion seminar.

The specific concepts, technologies, and methods which will be introduced include:

  • Embedded development, including use of the Cricket (a simple yet powerful embedded controller), the LogoChip, a unique programming environment for PIC code development, and PIC assembly language. Students will also be free to choose other processors for their own projects.

  • Writing drivers for interfacing to various sensors and actuators, including assembly language coding, circuit design, and networking of physically separate devices

  • Circuit design, including theory and practical approaches, Ohm's law, voltage dividers, sensors, op-amps, transistors, diodes, H-bridge circuits, inductance, power supplies. Also construction techniques including prototyping, electronic CAD, and printed-circuit board design and fabrication.

  • Mechanical design, including use of 2- and 3-D CAD software; rapid prototyping tools (Roland EGX-300 desktop engraving machine and Trotec Speedy II laser cutter [to be acquired]).

  • Communications, including serial RS-232, 40 kHz modulated infrared (e.g., Sony consumer remotes), IrDA, i2c, and Cricket Bus, including implementation methods with UARTs, bit-banging code, level shifters, and drivers from conventional high-level languges. Students will be invited to also explore USB, radio, TCP/IP and other relevant technologies.

The course has no specific prerequisites (other than good standing in the Department), but you must be willing to deal with a course that involves as much problem-finding as it does problem-solving. In other words, the class will introduce you to a rich set of methods, tools, and techniques, but it will be up you to generate interesting projects and then carry them forward.

In practice, this will mean a solid six to ten hour time commitment per week, outside of classroom hours, for practical work in the Engaging Computing Lab (OS306).


In addition to introducing the aforementioned technologies, the class will explore a number of applications areas, including:

  • Toy design including audio I/O, sensor I/O (including object detection), actuators (lights, movement), interaction with screen-based computer or TV.

  • Interpersonal communication based on wearable computational tags.

  • Environmental installations such as museum exhibits, spatially distributed computation (e.g., Pinwheels), interactive robots.

  • Ubiquituous computing such as traffic sensing nteworks, process control, and distributed data collection.

  • Artistic applications such as the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and the ArtBots exhibition.


Students are expected to create/present the following “deliverables”:

  • Two substantial projects. The first is to be exhibited at UML Botfest on Saturday, March 27, 2003; the second is due at the end of the term.

  • Two detailed project write-ups. One of these will be a web site; the other will be a publication-quality paper in the style of a short CHI paper.

  • One researched technology analysis, which will include an in-class presentation and an “executive summary/user guide” handed out to the class.

  • Various small labs assigned (all must be completed).

Last modified: Thursday, 29-Jan-2004 16:32:34 EST by fred_martin@uml.edu