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Synchronized Robot: A PID Control Project with the LEGO Mindstorm NXT

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Laboratory Experiences with Signal Processing and Controls

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1149.1 - 24.1149.16



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Paper Authors


Chad Eric Davis P.E. University of Oklahoma

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Chad E. Davis received the B.S. degree in mechanical engineering, M.S. degree in electrical engineering, and Ph.D. degree in engineering from the University of Oklahoma (OU), Norman, in 1994, 2000, and 2007, respectively. Since 2008, he has been a member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) faculty, University of Oklahoma. Prior to joining the OU-ECE faculty, he worked in industry at Uponor (Tulsa, OK), McElroy Manufacturing (Tulsa, OK), Lucent (Oklahoma City, OK), Celestica (Oklahoma City, OK), and Boeing (Midwest City, OK). His work experience ranges from electromechanical system design to automation of manufacturing and test processes. His research at OU involves GPS ground-based augmentation systems utilizing feedback control. Dr. Davis holds a dual discipline (electrical and mechanical) professional engineering license in the state of Oklahoma. He currently serves as the faculty adviser for Robotics Club, the Loyal Knights of Old Trusty, and Sooner Competitive Robotics at OU and he serves as the recruitment and outreach coordinator for OU-ECE. He received the Provost's Outstanding Academic Advising Award in 2010 and the Brandon H. Griffin Teaching Award in 2012.

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Anh Mai University of Oklahoma

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Anh Mai received B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering in 2004 (Vietnam), and M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering in 2008 (University of Oklahoma). He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Electrical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. His research interests include controls, robotics, artificial intelligence, dynamics and controls of prosthetic devices. During his time at the University of Oklahoma, he involved in development of embedded systems for applications in road construction and healthcare research.

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Synchronized Robots: A PID Control Project with the Lego Mindstorm NXTThe typical introduction to controls course is heavy in theory and light in practicalapplication. In order to have some hands-on element in the course, simulations are oftenused to apply the theory. However, simulations cannot replace a practical controlsapplication that involves improving an actual system’s performance. With simulations,learning is limited because students are usually provided an oversimplified model andonly asked to make slight modifications to provided or existing code. Simulation doesn’twork well for a system that has a model that is unknown or difficult to attain, which isusually what the students will face in industry. There are many reasons why it is difficultto create a control system for student projects. First, it is time consuming and expensiveto create and maintain them. Second, once you create a control system you have thedifficulty in managing the time for all students to work on it or you create numerousidentical control systems at a great expense. Another idea is requiring students to buildtheir own system. The problem with this approach is that so much time is dedicated tomechanical and electrical design that important control theory concepts are left out ordeemphasized. A solution to this problem is providing the students with a LegoMindstorm NXT kit, which allows them to quickly design their system so they can focuson the application of control theory. These kits are cheap and can be used for otherfunctions such as freshman orientation courses and outreach events when not being usedfor controls.In the Introductory Controls course at our university students were given a LegoMindstorm NXT kit and some brief training in LabVIEW. The students implementedPID control algorithms to produce synchronized robots that tracked each other’smovement. Implementing PID control in LabVIEW without any built in functions allowsstudents to discover how PID control works in a visual way. With this method, thelikelihood of retaining the knowledge would appear to be much greater than modifying abuilt in function while doing simulations. This paper will show how this projectincreased the student’s understanding of PID control. Pre-project and post-project examsare used to provide statistical evidence of learning. Student’s perceived value of theproject is also explored. Additionally, details of the project are provided so otheruniversities can replicate it.

Davis, C. E., & Mai, A. (2014, June), Synchronized Robot: A PID Control Project with the LEGO Mindstorm NXT Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23082

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