Asee peer logo

Teaching Robot Design: Student Driven, Open Ended Design Projects

Download Paper |


2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Mobile Robotics in Education

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1222.1 - 11.1222.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Bradley Bishop U.S. Naval Academy

visit author page

BRADLEY E. BISHOP is an Associate Professor in the Weapons and Systems Engineering Department at the United States Naval Academy (USNA). He received the B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Michigan State University in 1991, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in EE from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1994 and 1997, respectively. He is the founder of the Mobile Robotics Laboratory at USNA. His research interests include robot swarm control, autonomous surface vessels, and nonlinear control.

visit author page


Carl Wick U.S. Naval Academy

visit author page

CARL E. WICK is a Professor and Chairman of the Weapons and Systems Engineering Department at the United States Naval Academy (USNA). He received the B.S. degree from USNA in 1970, the M.S. degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1978, and the D.Sc. degree from The George Washington University in 1993. His research interests include autonomous underwater vehicles, sensor systems, and contemporary microprocessor systems

visit author page


George Piper U.S. Naval Academy

visit author page

GEORGE E. PIPER is an Associate Professor of Systems Engineering at the United States Naval Academy. He holds a B.S., M.S., and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Drexel University. Prior to joining the Naval Academy faculty, Dr. Piper was a senior member of the technical staff at Martin Marietta’s Astro Space Division. Dr. Piper is a licensed Professional Engineer. His research interests include space vehicle dynamics and control, robotic aircraft, and control of vibration and noise.

visit author page

Download Paper |

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

Teaching Robot Design: Student-Driven, Open-Ended Design Projects


In this paper, we describe an open-ended robot design exercise that focuses on the design process. Students are tasked with defining a set of objectives, developing a solution strategy and constructing a final system. Students undertaking this exercise are working toward a metric based on sound engineering design, in contrast to the victory-based metrics typically associated (in the students’ minds) with robotics competitions. The proposed format allows students a truly open-ended experience, since they must develop problem specifications themselves. Instructor support is required to assist in the development of an appropriate problem as well as during the design phase, but a well-prepared instructor can look forward to an extremely beneficial exercise that strongly motivates students and provides substantial dividends for the students in regards to robotics and engineering design in general.


Robot design is a challenging topic to teach in a traditional course1. Most approaches to instruction in robot design focus on subsystem design followed by a common design project (typically involving a competition). While this method provides students with experience in designing a robot to achieve certain objectives, there is often a distinct lack of rigor in the design process itself, with only success in the final competition as the metric by which the students evaluate their overall performance. Due to this ‘goal-minded’ behavior, students often resort to ad hoc methods for design, losing sight of the principles of the discipline.

To alleviate this problem, we provide students with an opportunity to develop their own design project and then carry it out as part of a course on mobile robot design. Student teams (typically comprising three students) complete their design over the course of several weeks and present to their peers both their project concept and the outcomes of their design. Peer evaluations provide valuable insight into the validity of the project and appropriate design methods. In this paper, we lay out the learning objectives and instructional strategies associated with this approach and provide student feedback on their experience. We focus on the pedagogical advantages of the method, including an increased emphasis on design methodology and problem specifications.

Student-directed design provides students with a great deal of flexibility, but also places on them the onus of developing a nontrivial project that involves all aspects of the course and the design process. The project discussed in this work follows several others in the more classical form, involving open-ended but completely specified problems in navigation, design for terrain, etc. Thus, students enter this exercise with several clear examples of appropriate projects as well as graded outcomes from their previous designs.

It is a fallacy common of modern robotics instruction that the discipline is primarily a vehicle for instruction in basic engineering principles. In fact, robotics is an important and robust discipline in its own right. As such, a key component of this design project is to synthesize a complete design based on previous experiences in the course, providing students with added experience

Bishop, B., & Wick, C., & Piper, G. (2006, June), Teaching Robot Design: Student Driven, Open Ended Design Projects Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1096

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015