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Computer Interface Innovations for an ECE Mobile Robotics Platform Applicable to K-12 and University Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Hardware Applications

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.364.1 - 22.364.19



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Paper Authors


Alisa N. Gilmore University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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Alisa N. Gilmore, P.E. is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer and Electronics Engineering at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Since 2006, she has served as Senior Staff for administering NSF grants in the ITEST and Discovery K-12 programs associated with using robotics in the K-12 arena to educate teachers and motivate student achievement in STEM. At the University, she has developed and taught courses in robotics, electrical circuits and telecommunications. Prior to coming to UNL, Ms. Gilmore worked in telecommunications and controls R&D and manufacturing. She has used her industry background to foster industrial partnerships at the University, and to develop courses and supervise students in projects that support educational robotics.

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Jose M. Santos University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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Mr. Santos is an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (Omaha Campus) where he's currently earning a double-major in Computer Engineering and Mathematics. He also holds a Bachelor's Science degree in Electronics Engineering Technology (EET) from DeVry Institute of Technology (now DeVry University). He is the creator and lead software architect of the CEENBoT-API (Application Programming Interface) presently in use in various engineering curricula at the University of Nebraska.

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Aaron Joseph Mills Iowa State University

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Aaron Mills graduated in 2010 from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Omaha with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science. During his undergraduate he was involved extensively in SPIRIT as a software developer for the CEENBoT platform. He is currently pursing a Master's degree in Computer Engineering at Iowa State University, but remains involved in SPIRIT as the primary developer of the CEENBoT Graphical Programming Interface. Aaron spends much of his free time at Iowa State University as a collaborator with the electrical group on Team PrISUm, a student-run organization that designs, builds, and races solar powered electric vehicles. His interests lie primarily in the area of embedded system hardware and software development.

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Computer Interface Innovations to a New ECE Mobile Robotics Platform Applicable to K-12 and University StudentsMany K-12 teachers and university departments have adopted in recent years the integration ofrobots into courses and the classroom to engage and motivate students in STEM achievement.These efforts have been aimed at both attracting and retaining a diversity of students in STEMfields in K-12 and at the university level, particularly in engineering and computer sciencecourses. Some of these efforts have utilized commercially available robots such as Lego®-basedrobots, while others have developed their own robotic platforms, such as the Oregon StateUniversity’s TekBoT Learning Platform®. In a similar effort, in 2008, the Silicon PrairieInitiative for Robotics in Information Technology (SPIRIT) prompted the creation of a novelmobile robotics learning platform developed by faculty and students of the department ofComputer and Electronics Engineering (CEEN). This robotics platform became the centerpieceof outreach efforts to K-12 teachers in order to facilitate demonstration of STEM concepts and toprovide a sense of excitement and buy-in for University students. The platform, aptly named theCEENBoT has since been used in K-12 outreach programs and integrated into undergraduatecourses in all four years in the Department of Computer and Electronics Engineering.The CEENBoT™ platform was created to address educational needs at K-12 and Universitylevels. It is a highly flexible, robust platform for project-based, hands-on learning withexpandability for various microprocessors. It has a wide range of applications developed for K-12 math and science standards, and an ongoing development for a grades 5-8 curriculum via anonline interactive website. It has a modifiable design consisting of off-the-shelf electronic hobbystore components, instead of proprietary components as with the LEGO MINDSTORMS® andVEX® commercially available robot kits. It has been applied in the extensive SPIRIT teacherprofessional development project and shown to be highly successful for equipping K-12 teachersin STEM training, and to have promising initial results for increasing motivation in studentSTEM learning at the K-16 levels.Prior to 2009, there was no means for K-12 students to program the CEENBoT™, so the creationof a user-friendly graphical programming interface (GPI) for younger students became a priorityand began to undergo development in 2008. The GPI included a graphical interface thatconsisted of a custom developed programming environment with drag and drop elements thatcan be constructed, compiled and viewed in the C-language and downloaded to the robot.In addition, there was a need for University students to program the CEENBoT™ in the Cprogramming language for more extensive applications in autonomous mobile robotics for whichthe original controller design was not equipped. To address this need, the CEENBoT™ vs. 2.2was created as a redesign of the original model with a streamlined controller board and enhancedfeatures including the ability to program a centralized AVR-type microcontroller. To furtherenhance the ease of C-programming for these applications, an Application ProgrammingInterface (API) was created by the department in the summer of 2010. The CEENBoT™ APIexposes a set of functions which allow users to control the CEENBoT™ in a simplified mannerusing well-documented function calls. The CEENBoT™ API was designed to expose a rich setof C functions that allow easy access and control of various hardware resources opening up theCEENBoT™ for exploration at multiple skill levels. These hardware resources include theembedded peripherals such as control of I2C, SPI, UART subsystems, and a graphical LCDdisplay. The API has had a secondary purpose in being applicable to teaching embedded Cprogramming to freshman and sophomore university students and for use in autonomous roboticsapplications in junior and senior level students.The CEENBoT™’s GPI and API were introduced in the fall of 2010 in beta versions to the firstsets of field test users. This paper will provide an overview of these computer interfaceadvancements to the CEENBoT™ Robotics Learning Platform. The development of computerinterface tools for this platform has a potential impact in achieving a single programmablerobotics platform that is applicable to K-16 levels for STEM, computer science and roboticsapplications. This paper will present the design, development, and overview of the beta versionsof these computer interface innovations, along with their initial applications and field test results. Partial List of ReferencesGilmore, Chen, and Grandgenett, “Using Robotics to Equip K-12 Teachers: The Silicon PrairieInitiative for Robotics in Information Technology”, ASEE 2009Gilmore, Detloff, “Assessing Senior Student Experiences with a Novel Mobile RoboticsLearning Platform in a Computer and Electronics Engineering Program”, ASEE 2010Reed, Creekbaum, Elliott, Hall, Harbour, “Utilizing Robotics to Facilitate Project-BasedLearning: A Student Perspective”, ASEE 2008Heer, R.L., Traylor, T.T., Fiez, T.S. “Enhancing the Freshman and Sophomore ECE StudentExperience Using a Platform for Learning. IEEE Transactions on Education”, 46(4), November2003.

Gilmore, A. N., & Santos, J. M., & Mills, A. J. (2011, June), Computer Interface Innovations for an ECE Mobile Robotics Platform Applicable to K-12 and University Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17645

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