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Introducing Mechanical Engineers to Microprocessors with Arduino Tank Robots

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Microcontrollers, Programming, and Data Acquisition

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1025.1 - 26.1025.11



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Paper Authors


David R. Mikesell Ohio Northern University

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David R. Mikesell is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio Northern University. His research interests are in land vehicle dynamics, autonomous vehicles, and robotics. He joined the faculty in 2007 after work in automotive engineering at Ohio State (PhD 2008), six years designing automated assembly machines and metal-cutting tools for Grob Systems, and four years’ service as an officer in the U.S. Navy. He holds bachelor degrees in German (Duke 1990) and Mechanical Engineering (ONU 1997).

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John-David S. Yoder Ohio Northern University

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John-David Yoder received his degrees (B.S., M.S, and Ph.D.) in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame. He is Professor and Chair of the mechanical engineering at Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH. He has previously served as Proposal Engineer and Proposal Engineering Supervisor at Grob System, Inc. and Software Engineer at Shaum Manufacturing, Inc. He has held a number of leadership and advisory positions in various entrepreneurial ventures. He is currently a KEEN (Kern Entrepreneurial Education Network) Fellow, and has served as a Faculty Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA and an Invited Professor at INRIA Rhone-Alpes, Monbonnot, France. Research interests include computer vision, mobile robotics, intelligent vehicles, entrepreneurship, and education.

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Introducing Mechanical Engineers to Microprocessors With Arduino Tank RobotsMicroprocessors have dramatically increased in popularity and versatility while reducing in costover the past several years, and are now accessible to the hobbyist and general public. Such apowerful tool, long primarily the domain of electrical and computer engineers, should beintroduced to mechanical engineers as well. MEs are frequently called upon not only to design asystem’s physical mechanism and actuation, but also to design, program, and package the controlarchitecture. Even mechanical engineers who will not have to do this in their careers willcertainly be design systems that are equipped with microprocessors. Several schools haveincorporated microprocessors into their first year coursework for all engineers, but this is notalways possible or practical.As part of a recent curriculum change, the mechanical engineering department at XXXUniversity has started a two-week module on microprocessor programming in the ComputerApplications course required for all sophomore MEs. The course begins with generalprogramming instruction in Matlab®, which is then applied in the microprocessor module. Eachstudent had the in-class use of an Arduino Uno-based track-driven robot. The two-section classis held in a computer lab with sufficient hardware for each student to have his or her owncomputer. Students performed tasks with the robot in three different ways: first through theArduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE), then using Matlab, and finally withSimulink®.A number of lessons were learned that would help others to successfully implement this type ofmodule. An inexpensive hobby-grade robot was purchased in order to have one robot perstudent. Unfortunately these robots did not prove sufficiently robust for the lab environment,and about 30% of them failed during the two week module. Matlab and Simulink have recentlyadded native Arduino support to the base package, no longer requiring special toolboxes for aselect list of microprocessors. But the implementation is not yet flawless and required severallab-wide iterations on the installation process and one awkward workaround. The programmingconcept of interrupts was new to virtually all students and proved challenging to communicate.A focused exercise on this concept would have made the larger programming tasks moreaccessible. It was also difficult for students to complete all assignments in class, even thoughsubstantial time was allotted for them to do so. Issuing robots to students would enable them towork out of class as well as mitigating problems associated with using a different robot each day.Of the 49 students who took this class in spring semester of 2014, 39 completed an end-of-coursesurvey. Of these 39 students, three said that the Arduino robot programming was the “worstthing about the course,” and three listed it as the best. Though less than 8% of the ME studentshad programmed Arduino or other microcontrollers before this class, 56% enjoyed learning howto do so using Matlab/Simulink. Over half felt confident afterward that they could program thetank robot to do more interesting things than they were required to do in this class. 61%indicated that they “would like to play more with microcontrollers in the future,” and 36%strongly agreed with that statement. Over half of the students found programming amicrocontroller more enjoyable than their other programming assignments; only 13% found itless enjoyable. This instruction module and survey will be repeated at the end of spring 2015.This additional data will be available for the presentation, but not before the final paper deadlinein March. Figure 1: DFRobotShop Rover

Mikesell, D. R., & Yoder, J. S. (2015, June), Introducing Mechanical Engineers to Microprocessors with Arduino Tank Robots Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24362

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