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Bridging Theory And Practice In A Senior Level Robotics Course For Mechanical And Electrical Engineers

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.291.1 - 14.291.15



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Paper Authors


Ping Ren Virginia Tech

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Ping Ren is a PhD candidate working under the direction of Dr. Dennis Hong in RoMeLa (Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory) of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Virginia Tech. He is passionate about advancing research in robotics and innovations related to robotics education.

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Janis Terpenny Virginia Tech

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Janis Terpenny is an Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Education,
and an affiliate faculty of Industrial & Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She is Director of
the Center for e-Design, a multi-university NSF I/UCRC center. Her research focuses on methods
and representation schemes for early design process and on engineering design education. She
was previously faculty at the University of Massachusetts and worked at General Electric (GE),
including the completion of a two-year management program. She is a member of ASEE, ASME, IIE, and Alpha Pi Mu and is the Design Economics area editor for The Engineering Economist and the Associate Editor for the ASME Journal of Mechanical Design.

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Dennis Hong

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Dennis Hong is an Assistant Professor and the Director of RoMeLa (Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory) of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Virginia Tech. His research expertise lies in the area of mobile robot locomotion, humanoid robots, and autonomous systems. Dr. Hong is also the faculty advisor for Virginia Tech's team for RoboCup, and the co-team leader for team VictorTango for the DARPA Urban Challenge where they won third place and the $500,000 prize. He was awarded the prestigious NSF CAREER award in 2007 and has received numerous awards from ASME, NASA, and the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech for his research and work with students.

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Richard Goff Virginia Tech

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Richard Goff is an Associate Professor and Assistant Department Head of the Department of
Engineering Education in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is also the Director of the Frith Freshman Engineering Design Laboratory and the Faculty Advisor of the VT Mini-Baja Team. He is actively involved in bringing joy and adventure to the educational process and is the recipient of numerous University teaching awards.

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

Bridging Theory and Practice in a Senior Level Robotics Course for Mechanical and Electrical Engineers

Abstract As a diverse discipline, robotics is a synthesis of a variety of subjects such as kinematics, dynamics, controls, mechatronics, mechanical design, artificial intelligence etc. The crossover of multiple areas makes the instruction of robotics courses a challenging task. Traditional robotics courses in mechanical and electrical engineering mainly focus on the analysis and modeling of classical robotic systems such as a two-to-six degrees of freedom robotic manipulator arm or a simple wheeled mobile robot. However, as more and more new branches of robotics are emerging in recent years (nanorobotics, biology-inspired robots and so on), it has become clear that materials covered in traditional robotics courses are not sufficient for students to solve new problems or create new robotic systems. It is therefore imperative that robotics courses be updated, and in many cases, redesigned to account for new branches of robotics that call on students to be competent in the theoretical underpinnings and also have the skills and confidence to apply these to real applications demanded by current practice. This paper first introduces the importance of robotics courses in the curricula of engineering programs, followed by results of a survey that reports on the features of robotics courses in several universities in the United States. The difficulties of designing a robotics course are then addressed. Finally, a suggested structure of a senior level robotics course is proposed.

Introduction In the year of 2005, the Robotics Education Workshop took place in Robotics Systems and Science symposium at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)1. The main goal of this workshop was to discuss how to turn robotics into a core course that could be taught in every accredited Mechanical Engineering (ME), Electrical Engineering (EE), Computer Science (CS) undergraduate and graduate program in the United States, indeed, all over the world. Over 30 robotics professors from universities and institutes in the US, Europe, and Asia participated in this discussion and they all believed that it was a good time to start considering in which ways robotics could be taught broadly and then, determine and implement corresponding actions. The opinions of these professors were mostly due to the computing revolution and recent advances in actuators and sensors, which make it possible that today’s personal computers (PCs) could become tomorrow’s personal robots (PRs). Actually, the importance of robot-related projects in engineering curricula had already been well recognized by educationists2, especially as a tool in the early stage of engineering programs to foster students’ motivation and provide engineering design-oriented experience.

Currently, complete robotics curricula are only available at a few US universities or institutes with expertise in robotics research, such as University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and so on. At UPenn or CMU, by taking robotics and robotics-related courses, graduate students can fulfill the requirements on course hours towards their doctoral degrees3,4. Most recently, UPenn announced a master’s degree in robotics5. However, in other institutions, robotics courses and robotics curricula are still difficult to design because of the imbalance between ME, EE and CS topics, the lack of low cost teaching platforms and labs, etc..

Ren, P., & Terpenny, J., & Hong, D., & Goff, R. (2009, June), Bridging Theory And Practice In A Senior Level Robotics Course For Mechanical And Electrical Engineers Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4915

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