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R2 D2 As A Motivator In Engineering Education

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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

15.1010.1 - 15.1010.9



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Paper Authors

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Brian Peterson United States Air Force Academy

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Patrick Sweeney United States Air Force Academy

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Delbert Christman United States Air Force Academy

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

R2D2 as a Motivator in Engineering Education

The use of robotic system applications continues to grow as a learning tool in electrical and computer engineering, but basic designs and projects have been well investigated and advances in the field are becoming increasingly complex. Many new and interesting systems are beyond the scope of what undergraduates can tackle as a capstone project. As a result, capstone design projects usually either require a massive learning curve to build on previous systems or are relegated to relatively simple designs, many of which are repeated year after year. This paper describes the educational experience gained through design and construction of an R2D2 replica from the Star Wars™ movies. The initial project incorporates basic radio control as well as simple autonomous navigation and limited user interface with the capability for future expansion. The modular design is intended to allow future capstone groups to add innovative new features as well as novel applications of well established technologies. In addition to being a motivational project for senior-level engineering students, it is also a marketing tool for future electrical and computer engineering majors. It was anticipated that the novelty and expected publicity that this project would receive would motivate even a below average team of students to work above and beyond their peers. Unfortunately this was only partially true as half of the group performed as hoped, with a mix of stronger and weaker students performing above what was expecetd and the other half performing below what was expected.


It is well documented that the use of robots stimulates the learning process in an educational environment. One of the benefits of using robots in a design context is that it forces the students to consider multiple cross-disciplinary subsystems. Systems engineering is, by default, a critical part of the design as students must address the interfaces between digital, analog, and mechanical subsystems. Considering that ABET requires curricula to integrate cross-disciplinary teams with a focus on projects, robots are an ideal platform. Additionally, overcoming these integration issues help satisfy the goal of the United State Air Force Academy’s senior design capstone course of enabling “students to learn to solve multidisciplinary problems by integrating knowledge and skills from previous disciplinary engineering courses and employing the design and system engineering processes.”1

Ideas for capstone projects originate from numerous avenues: professor interests, student suggestions, requests from external sources, or satisfying Air Force needs. The R2D2 project began as an independent study by several interested students. R2D2 is a well-recognized three legged droid from the Lucas Films Star Wars™ movies. In the movies, R2D2 can be observed autonomously navigating flat surfaces, interpreting situations and commands and responding with relevant beeps or whistles, recording video and playing it back via holographic projector, transitioning from three legs to two, storing a light saber and ejecting it when needed, and providing a taser-like shock. Although the students in the independent study found useful information on building a realistic R2D2 from the Astromech Builders Club website2, their progress was limited. Since there was considerable student interest in the project despite the lack of initial progress, the R2D2 project was selected as a capstone project, knowing it had potential for several years of project upgrades.

Peterson, B., & Sweeney, P., & Christman, D. (2010, June), R2 D2 As A Motivator In Engineering Education Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16008

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