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Introducing Sophomore Engineering Students To Control Theory Using Mobile Robots

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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

Design in the ECE Curriculum

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.809.1 - 14.809.13



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Paper Authors

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Bruce Dunne Grand Valley State University


Chirag Parikh Grand Valley State University

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Chirag Parikh is an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received his B.S. degree from University of Mumbai, India in 2000. He received both his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering from The University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas in 2003 and 2007 respectively. His research interest is in area of digital systems, hardware modeling, and cryptography and also published various papers in the same. He has taught C programming course and Introductory/Advanced Digital courses at the undergraduate level. Currently, he is teaching a graduate level course in the area of Advanced FPGA Implementation.

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Andrew Sterian Grand Valley State University

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Andrew Sterian is an Associate Professor in the Padnos College of
Engineering and Computing at Grand Valley State University. He
received his B.A.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of
Waterloo, Canada, and the M.S.E. and Ph.D., both in Electrical
Engineering, from the University of Michigan. His interests include
embedded systems hardware and firmware, mechatronics in education, and
signal processing.

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

Introducing Sophomore Engineering Students to Control Theory Using Mobile Robots


Control theory is an important element of engineering education in many disciplines. However, most programs do not introduce this topic until the junior year at the earliest. In this paper, we present an approach for the early introduction of PID control theory in a sophomore-level Introduction to Digital Systems course.

Control theory is introduced as a method to guide the motion of a custom mobile robot. The mobile robot utilizes a commercial chassis, wheels and tracks along with geared DC motors that include embedded quadrature position encoders. In addition to the chassis, we have developed custom hardware for the robot control and peripheral interface, including an interface to an Atmel ATmega324P microprocessor-based daughterboard for student- developed code. Peripherals include an accelerometer, IR range finder attached to a 180° rotating servo, IR and light sensors, push buttons, three potentiometers and display devices including a set of seven-segment LEDs.

To introduce control theory, students are required to develop a strategy for autonomously navigating a maze. To do so, it is first necessary to control the robot’s motors such that the robot will predictably travel in a straight path. Using the position encoders, wheel speed and direction are estimated. This data is compared between the two motors from which an error signal, proportional to speed or position error, is fed to a PID controller. The gains for the PID controller are tuned by the students as settings on the potentiometers. Once the desired motion characteristics are controllable, the students then attempt to use the IR range finder and rotating servo along with pre-defined maze information to navigate the robot from the starting point to the finish line.

In this paper, we discuss the features of our robot that allow us to introduce control system theory. We then discuss how the material was integrated into a sophomore-level digital systems course. Next, we discuss the implementation of PID control for the robots. Finally, we conclude with lessons learned and ideas for an improved learning experience.


In our sophomore-level Introduction to Digital Systems course, topics progress from basic digital logic design to introductory microcontroller architecture. In the last portion of the course (weeks 9-14), students learn about embedded programming in C using the Altera ATmega324P microcontroller1 for the purposes of controlling a mobile robot. These labs begin with basic motion and peripheral control and eventually lead to the implementation of a PID control system for predictable motion. The final design

Dunne, B., & Parikh, C., & Sterian, A. (2009, June), Introducing Sophomore Engineering Students To Control Theory Using Mobile Robots Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5117

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