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Teaching Robot Design: Locomotion Beyond Differential Drive

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Mobile Robotics in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1228.1 - 10.1228.8



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Paper Authors

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Bradley Bishop

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

Teaching Robot Design: Locomotion Beyond Differential Drive

Bradley E. Bishop

United States Naval Academy Systems Engineering 105 Maryland Ave (Stop 14a) Annapolis, MD 21401

Abstract: In this paper, we present a novel design challenge for a mobile robotics course, focusing on locomotive methodologies and mechanism design. This exercise requires that the students design a robot for locomotion over complex and challenging terrain. This exercise demonstrates the difficulties associated with nontrivial terrain and provides the students with an excellent experiential learning opportunity that significantly enhances their robot deign capabilities by expanding their experience beyond simple differential drive systems.


Mobile robotics is a rapidly expanding field of research and education, but traditional mobile robot systems have a distinct lack of mobility and flexibility over uneven terrain. In general terms, mobile robots are the synthesis of mechanisms, electronics and computers. Most mobile robotics experiments and competitions (such as the Trinity College Fire-Fighting Robot Competition1 or the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition2) focus on the sensor packages, computation, algorithms and mechanisms that are placed on the mobility platform to achieve whatever task is at hand. It is a rare challenge in which the basic locomotive methodology is not differential-drive, a tank-tread system or car-like steering (although competitions exist that require more complex mobility… e.g., the NIST USAR events3). Unfortunately, these typical locomotion designs have significant difficulties with very rough terrain such as that found on the surface of Mars, inside a collapsed building or in almost any non-urban environment. In fact, even under direct teleoperation, most of these systems have significant difficulty with a step rise over 33% of their wheel diameter4.

In this paper, we outline a terrain challenge course and experiment that provides students with experience in the morphological design process and locomotion synthesis for mobile robotics. This challenge, along with appropriate motivating examples and in-class discussions, is used as a means toward producing robotics engineers who think about the robot as a whole, including structurally and mechanically. The conclusions and experiences discussed are based on three years of experience using the proposed terrain challenge in an undergraduate mobile robot design course.

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Bishop, B. (2005, June), Teaching Robot Design: Locomotion Beyond Differential Drive Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15416

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