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Robotics In Introduction To Ece At Vmi

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

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Page Numbers

7.989.1 - 7.989.9



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David Livingston

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James Squire

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Session 2793

Robotics in Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute

David L. Livingston, James C. Squire Virginia Military Institute


Increasingly universities are adopting a robotics-centric approach to teach their freshmen Introduction to Electrical Engineering: 23% of this year’s top-rated engineering schools with an introductory course incorporate a significant amount of robotics into their curricula. Besides teaching concepts from analog, digital, control, and programming courses, students find robots inherently appealing – an important attribute in this national climate of decreasing engineering enrollment. Published data indicate universities tend to either have students build prepackaged robot kits, which stress programming skills, or less commonly have students design their own from discrete components, which stresses interdisciplinary (e.g. mechanical) design and team collaboration. In this paper we describe an intermediate approach we have taken at the Virginia Military Institute. Our students begin with a pre-built mobile base, and then using discrete parts they breadboard a controller, the sensor arrays, and control electronics. In this manner we concentrate on core electrical engineering topics: basic analog and digital circuitry, computer architecture, and machine-level programming, while providing some controlled opportunities for students to make design choices and experiment with the open-architecture system.

I. Introduction

There is a clear national trend towards the adoption of robotics as an aid to teaching undergraduate electrical engineering courses in general, and introductory courses in particular. In 1990, less than 1% of the ASEE conference abstracts dealt with robotics in undergraduate education; this rose to 10% in 2000 and 12% in 2001. Today, 23% of the top-rated electrical engineering schools 1 with introductory courses either are entirely robotics-centric or else use them in a major block of instruction, versus 0% in 1990. This emphasis on using robotics as a learning tool for introductory courses extends to other disciplines as well, such as in aerospace engineering 2, mechanical engineering 3, computer engineering 4, and even in pre-engineering high school courses 5.

There are several reasons for the increasing popularity of robotics in introductory courses. Undeniably freshmen find them fascinating; questionnaires distributed following our introductory course are laced with comments such as “loved building the modules [that ultimately produced] a robot,” “this is why I became an EE major,” and the more succinct “cool robot.” Students also

“Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engin eering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education”

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Livingston, D., & Squire, J. (2002, June), Robotics In Introduction To Ece At Vmi Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11339

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