Asee peer logo

Designing Toy Robots To Help Autistic Children An Open Design Project For Electrical And Computer Engineering Education

Download Paper |


2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.205.1 - 5.205.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Andre Clavet

author page

Mario Lucas

author page

Gerard Lachiver

author page

Francois Michaud

Download Paper |

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

Session 2220

Designing Toy Robots to Help Autistic Children - An Open Design Project for Electrical and Computer Engineering Education Francois Michaud, André Clavet, Gérard Lachiver, Mario Lucas Université de Sherbrooke (Québec Canada)


In our curricula, freshmen use an autonomous robotic platform to get introduced to fundamental concepts in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Using this platform, teams of students interested by the challenge are invited to apply knowledge acquired during their first year of studies by participating in a toy robot design contest. Initiated in 1999, the challenge is to design a mobile robot to help autistic children. The goal of this paper is to describe the contest, its organization, its pedagogic principles and its impacts in order to show how open design projects can create meaningful and exciting learning experiences for students in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

I. Introduction

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Université de Sherbrooke offers two distinct bachelor engineering degrees, one in Electrical Engineering and one in Computer Engineering. In 1998, we initiated a pedagogical project in which Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) were introduced simultaneously to a large group of first-year undergraduate students registered in these two distinct programs. The primary goal of this project was to confirm early on the career choice of these students by putting them close to the reality of the profession and making them work on projects involving design and analysis abilities, autonomous learning, teamwork, communication skills and social considerations. We also wanted to create a stimulating and motivating learning environment, with a reasonable workload that favored the integration and the application of the engineering knowledge and skills.

To accomplish this goal, we were looking for a project that could integrate these ideas in different courses with appropriate complexity, and also provide open challenges that push further the creativity and the ingenuity of the students. With that in mind, we developed an autonomous mobile robotic platform that we named ROBUS10.

ROBUS was given to the students completely unassembled, and their first challenge was to build and test the robot by using the documentation provided9 . This process revealed to be very exciting for many students who were introduced, for the first time in their life, to electronics and instrumentation. Then, ROBUS was used in projects from six of the ten courses given during the first year10. For instance during the first semester, in the Logic Circuits course, students first designed a combinational logic circuit to make the robot move freely in the environment and turn away when it collided with an object. They also learned to use a Xilinx CPLD board to control the robot. The assignment was to design a system that could memorize a series of commands given from a keyboard, and play back these commands at the appropriate time. The task required to memorize the commands that made the robot follow a path drawn on the floor, and also the commands that made the robot avoid an obstacle of known dimensions. Then, the robot was placed at the start of the path and had to try to repeat it by having to avoid the obstacle (detected by infrared proximity sensors) placed somewhere on its way. During the second semester, the Introduction to Circuits and Microprocessors course allowed students to use a simple analog circuit to again make the robot move freely in the environment6. They also

Clavet, A., & Lucas, M., & Lachiver, G., & Michaud, F. (2000, June), Designing Toy Robots To Help Autistic Children An Open Design Project For Electrical And Computer Engineering Education Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8280

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2000 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015