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Designing Robotic Systems: Preparation For An Interdisciplinary Capstone Experience

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Robotics Curriculum

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.370.1 - 15.370.10



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Paper Authors


William Michalson Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Dr. William R. Michalson is a Professor in the ECE Department at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he performs research and teaches in the areas of navigation, communications and computer system design. He supervises the WPI Center for Advanced Integrated Radio Navigation (CAIRN) where he is developing a Public Safety Integration Center focused on the integration of communications, navigation and information technologies for public safety applications. His research focuses on the development, test, and evaluation of systems for both civilian and military applications with a special emphasis on techniques focused on indoor, underground or otherwise GPS-deprived situations. Most recently, Dr. Michalson has been involved with the development and refinement of the Robotics Engineering curriculum at WPI.

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Fred Looft Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Fred Looft is a Professor and Head of Electrical and Computer Engineering at WPI. Dr. Looft has primarily been involved in computer engineering education at all levels, from introductory to graduate level advanced system architecture courses. With the advent of the WPI Robotics Engineering program, he has been involved in both course development and teaching at all levels, and with laboratory facilities development for the program. Dr. Looft’s research interests have evolved from the analysis and modeling of tactile neural responses to now being focused on student capstone projects, systems engineering programs, and global education. Outside of the academic world, Dr. Looft is an avid sailplane enthusiast, pilot and flight instructor, and is a lifelong fitness enthusiast.

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

Designing Robotic Systems: Preparation for an Interdisciplinary Capstone Experience

Abstract The Robotics Engineering (RBE) program at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute officially began in 2009. Although the program had a small number of early graduates in 2009, based on current and projected enrollments it is expected that there will be a substantial number of students who will be graduating in 2010 and beyond. When the number of program graduates is relatively low, advising students and scheduling sufficient time for student teams seeking to complete a capstone design project has a relatively small impact on faculty productivity. As the numbers grow, this impact becomes significant. For many institutions, this is a driving factor in the implementation of fourth year capstone design courses - that of efficiently managing faculty time.

Background The field of Robotics is fundamentally multi-disciplinary, drawing on Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science and many other academic disciplines. While many programs include Robotics as an element within a discipline such as Electrical of Mechanical Engineering, the Robotics Engineering Program at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute took a decidedly different approach. Specifically, rather than looking at Robotics as an element within a larger engineering discipline, we have viewed Robotics as an engineering discipline unto itself, one which draws from other engineering disciplines but which, as in other disciplines, has an independent philosophy which underlies the application of technology to the solution of problems. Just as Mechanical Engineers solve problems using mechanical system analysis tools and pedagogy, and Electrical Engineers tend to solve problems using electrical system analysis tools and pedagogy, it is envisioned that Robotics Engineers will use robotic system analysis tools and pedagogy to solve problems. In other words, the philosophy which underlies Robotic Engineering is not merely to assemble a collection of electrical, mechanical and computer subsystems, but rather is the seamless integration of the correct robotic technologies into an optimized solution to a robotic problem. Further, while some design and analysis concepts are common to all engineering fields, different fields will employ unique approaches that are particularly suited to or require special emphasis within a specific discipline. To gain depth of knowledge in fundamental engineering concepts, the academic program for students in Robotics Engineering includes selected courses in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics and other topics. However, to remain true to the underlying principles of the program, these courses are not the centerpieces of Robotics Engineering. Rather, there is a series of courses specifically in Robotics Engineering


Michalson, W., & Looft, F. (2010, June), Designing Robotic Systems: Preparation For An Interdisciplinary Capstone Experience Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16046

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