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Robot Phone Home

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Industrial Sponsored Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.994.1 - 8.994.9

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Paper Authors

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Jerry Hatfield

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

Session 3525

“Robot Phone Home”

Jerry. M. Hatfield Northern Arizona University


The College of Engineering and Technology at Northern Arizona University employs a sequence of four courses, known as Design4Practice, to provide increasing levels of design experience as students progress from freshmen to seniors. The sophomore level course in this sequence is based on a semester-long project to design, build, and test a computer-controlled electro-mechanical robot that performs some useful function, frequently with an environmental application. The system always consists of a fixed base station and a mobile robot. The base station consists of a computer, power supplies, and computer input/output interface circuitry. Since the inception of the course, an umbilical cable has been used to connect the robot to the base station; using a cable has allowed a simple design, but has imposed severe limitations on the functions that the robot can perform and restricts the distance between the robot and the base station.

In the fall 2002 semester, the umbilical cable was replaced with a wireless communication system, and the needed power sources were placed on-board the robot. Introducing wireless communications and the associated electronics into this course was a major challenge since the electrical engineering majors, and frequently the mechanical engineers and computer science and engineering majors, have completed a basic AC and DC circuits course, but few have completed a course in electronic devices and circuits. This challenge was made manageable by using a low- cost 900 MHz cordless telephone set to provide two-way data exchange between the base station and the robot. Cordless telephones are familiar to the students and provide a reasonable way to introduce the concepts of radio frequency transmission and reception, frequency modulation, and digital and analog information encoding. This paper describes how wireless technology was introduced into the course and how the students adapted to the new design challenges. Sufficient details are provided to allow this approach to be used by others that might be interested.

Engineering Design at Northern Arizona University:

Since its inception in 1994, the Design4Practice program1,2,3 has undergone continuous evolution, gaining national recognition in 1999 when Northern Arizona University received the Boeing Outstanding Educator Award. A very instrumental course in this four-course design sequence is the sophomore level multidisciplinary course entitled “Engineering Design, The Process.” Every semester, students from five engineering disciplines join together in teams to design a computer controlled, electro-mechanical, robotic device that performs some specific task. For the fall 2002 semester, the task required a robotic device that could navigate through sewer pipes, visually inspecting the pipes and testing the effluent for temperature, pH, and conductivity. Previously, the robotic devices in this class have been designed with an umbilical cable to carry power and control signals to the robot and to return sensor data to the controlling computer. The usually heavy and somewhat inflexible cable had always been a limiting factor in the range and

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Hatfield, J. (2003, June), Robot Phone Home Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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