Building and Programming Mobile Robots

CSE 494/598
T Th 10:40 -- 11:55, ECG 315
3 Credits, Fall 2000

I. Objectives
This course has two objectives:

  • To know what a robot is, what its various parts are and how to build a robot.
  • To program a mobile robot to perform a specific task. In our case, we want to program a robot so that it can navigate in an office building, while avoiding obstacles and people in the corridors.
  • II. Prerequisites
    To take the class you must be ready to use C or willing to learn it on the fly, and must be willing to work hard on the exciting projects.
    III. Course Structure
  • Build your own robot. The first three-four weeks students will be taught from the MIT 6.270 notes and from the book [Jones and Flynn]. During these four weeks students will be required to also read the materials at home. They will learn the basics about the mechanical aspects of robot building by constructing a robot body using Lego blocks and adding a microprocessor board, sensors, and the motors to make it autonomous. During the first three weeks students will learn the microprocessor's programming language and experiment with gear configurations and sensor reading interpretations to design a robot that can operate succesfully on its own. The students will spend the fourth and the fifth week in formulating a strategy and completing the robot that will eventually compete in a series of 4-5 tasks in a pool table-like arena. (An expermiental arena is in the AI lab in GWC.) The tasks will be of various degree of complexity: from simple tasks such as following a line, and climbing a slope, to tasks such as getting out of a maze, reaching a goal area in presence of various known obstacles, collecting small boxes in a home area, and getting to a destination in presence of unknown obstacles that are randomly placed. There will be several contests corresponding to the different tasks during the last three weeks. As in the MIT contest, at the end of the eight weeks the robots built and programmed by the students will compete against each other in a final contest.
  • Use the real thing. The lack of adequate amount of memory and structural integrity makes it hard to write sophisticated programs and adapt the Lego robot to a real environment. The next part of the course deals with these concerns. Students will be given a built platform (We will be having amigobot robots from Activmedia) and they will be required to program these robots so that it maneuvers around a real environment such as a corridor with possible obstacles (trash cans, furniture etc.). These robots have on board laptops and/or radio modems that can be hooked to a computer. This will allow students to write larger programs (larger than the ones used by the lego robots).
  • IV. Grading.
    Exams (take home and in class) will constitute 40% of the grade, and the projects (in class and take home) will constitute 60% of the grade.
    Policy on Late submissions: If an assignment is handed out late, then you will receive 50% credit. This means that if the assignment was out of 20 points, and you scored 16, then you will get only 50% of 16, i.e. 8 points. Assignments handed in later than one week after the due date will receive no credit.

    V. Text and reading materials. ``Mobile Robots'' by Jones and Flynn. (A. K. Peters publishers) is the main text. In addition the manuals for the Handy board, and the Amigobot robot and its programming environment; and a paper by Fred Martin titled ``The art pf LEGO design'' will be part of the main reading material. Supplementary reading materials will include the book ``AI and mobile robots'' edited by Kortencamp, Bonasso and Murphy (MIT press), the AI magazine articles on previous AAAI robot contests, papers linked from the home page of this class, and handouts.

    VI. Instructor.
    Chitta Baral
    Office hours: Th 3:30 - 4:30 PM
    Office: GWC 366, Phone:727-6047
    (emails preferred. Use the phone as a last resort only.)
    Electronic mail:

    VII. T.A.
    Cenk Uyan
    Office hours: To be announced. (M W)
    Office: GWC 387, Phone: 965-2735
    Electronic mail

    VIII. Website.
    The website for this course is