Experiential Learning via Hands-On Robotics Engineering and Programming for Senior Undergraduates

Kamal Gupta

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Kamal Gupta, School of Engineering Science

Timeframe: Fall 2011

Description: Robotics is a key sub-expertise within the systems option in Engineering Science at SFU. While students are exposed to a variety of courses in core areas such as kinematics, dynamics, mechanics, control, machine vision, and robot programming, there is no one course that calls on them to integrate these components into a single functioning entity. By its very nature, robotics is an interdisciplinary and hands-on endeavour, and currently students miss out on this critical aspect of the field. This project calls for the creation of a largely self-directed, student-centred, project-based course (ENSC 494) for five to 10 senior undergraduates to be offered as a follow-up to an introductory course in robotics. The new course, involving hands-on, real-robotics-system-based training, will help students in two ways. First, it will inspire more in-depth investigation, and second, it will give them real engineering expertise that will make them attractive to employers. With the emergence of sophisticated platforms, a wide array of sensing technology, increased computational power, and advances in robotics algorithms, such training is now feasible, indeed desirable, at the undergraduate level. To the author’s knowledge, SFU Engineering will be the first department in Canada to offer undergraduates such hands-on experiential learning in robotics.

Students will use a state-of-the-art mobile-manipulator robot consisting of a robot arm attached to a mobile base. Their projects will involve having the robot accomplish real-world tasks such as fetching a coffee cup from a table. The instructor and a PhD-level TA will provide support. The initial TA will also create how-to manuals/guides and a questionnaire to assess student learning. Weekly discussion meetings will be set up to track the progress of the project.

Questions addressed: A detailed questionnaire will investigate the effectiveness of the course and the experiential learning process. Questions will deal with students’ reflections on their experience: whether they had the skills to carry out the project, how the project challenged them, and whether it stimulated their imaginations. Feedback will be incorporated into future course offerings/projects.