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An Autonomous Robot The Ideal Design Project?

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.62.1 - 4.62.8

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Paper Authors

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Paul Giolma

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Farzan Aminian

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Djaffer Ibaroudene

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2520

An Autonomous Robot—The Ideal Design Project?

Paul Giolma, Farzan Aminian and Djaffer Ibaroudene Trinity University/St. Mary’s University


This paper describes a senior design project at Trinity University from the 1997-98 academic year. Senior design at Trinity is the culmination of four years of design courses and of integration of design into undergraduate laboratories and into engineering science courses. The autonomous robot designed by four seniors (advised by two faculty) is a four wheel vehicle, powered and steered by two DC motors, controlled by an MIT “Handy Board,” with optical en- coders and IR sensors as inputs. Starting from a fixed position, the robot finds its way to a given destination coordi- nate while avoiding randomly placed obstacles along the path. The project is an excellent teaching and learning ex- perience due to the multiple disciplines involved: logic, electronics, control, programming and mechanics. In addi- tion, the project provides the students with a relatively realistic professional experience involving financial and time budgeting, management, meeting of deadlines, making presentations and writing reports.


Probably due to the interdisciplinary nature of the program, design has been an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum in Trinity’s Engineering Science program since its inception in the 1960s. From those early beginnings, courses in engineering design have been in the engineering science core—courses with group-oriented projects be- ginning with the first semester and culminating in the senior year with a full year project that builds upon the entire curriculum.

The nature of the design element in the engineering science curriculum has evolved considerably in the thirty years since its inception. In the early 1990s, the Department reviewed the design components of the curriculum and redi- rected the emphasis on design to the entire engineering core [1] [2]. Rather than treating design as a separate com- ponent of engineering, the approach adopted by the Department tries to incorporate and integrate engineering sci- ence and design wherever possible in all courses and laboratories.

Along with philosophical changes, the availability of new tools to support design (e.g. personal computers, micro- processors and simulation tools such as Spice, MATLAB® and LabView®) have changed the curriculum and the students’ ability to engage in and complete more difficult and realistic projects. The 1980s saw the first integration of computers into senior design projects and the advent of projects based on robotics and microprocessors. Besides the obvious benefits of these tools in enhancing the capabilities of students to successfully attack “real-world” problems, these technological advances also promote interdisciplinary projects.


The design curriculum (in terms of specific courses) begins in the first year, which contains two three-hour courses that include topics in graphical analysis and communication, an introduction to the processes of engineering design, analysis techniques and two competitive design projects (i.e. groups in each semester pursue designs that meet a common set of specifications). First year projects are typically truss or bridge designs (in the first semester) and a “water balloon launcher” in the second. The second year contains two one-hour courses that address design of ex- periments, engineering economics, optimization and a competitive mechanics-oriented project in the second semes- ter. The third year follow in the same (as the second year) format, addressing management of design activities, reli- ability, two competitive projects (electrical in the first semester and thermo/fluids [3] in the second) and initial preparation for the senior project.

Giolma, P., & Aminian, F., & Ibaroudene, D. (1999, June), An Autonomous Robot The Ideal Design Project? Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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