Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Electrical Engineering: A Project-Based Course

This year, with the new Electrical Engineering elective (prerequisite: electronics), I'm trying out a fully project-based course. With the background knowledge that they have and a whole lot that they pick up along the way, these students are going to build a robot to respond to this central prompt:

Robots overcome obstacles in many different ways; some are similar to the methods that humans would use and some are markedly different. The goal here is to design an "obstacle" and a robot to navigate the obstacle. Teams will build both the "arena" in which the robot operates and its goal location, and their robot must overcome the obstacle to reach the goal. "Obstacle" could mean many different things, definitely not limited to physical obstacles - a solar-powered robot may have darkness as an obstacle, a robot on Venus would have to overcome high temperatures, and a rescue robot would have to overcome uneven terrain.

Along the way, teams will need to meet several intermediate goals, producing several 'deliverables,' which demonstrate planning, incremental progress, and proof-of-concept for their robot.


  • "Obstacle" description, along with ideas (plural!) about how the robot might overcome it (team evaluation )
  • Specifications sheet: details your robot's inputs (information from sensors), outputs (expected behaviors, actions, etc.), and expected exceptions (problems that can occur) (team)
  • Three Arduino projects from the texts that could pertain to your problem (individual evaluation; three projects different from your partner's three). For each, summarize how you think it might pertain to your project and show how you modified the project/sketch to change how it functions in some way. Present these as a Youtube video, with commented code (showing especially the modifications) linked
  • Program flow chart (detail the sequence of sensor readings, calculations, and outputs that will take place in the loop, as well as the preliminary variables that need to be set) (team)
  • Contribution to the WCGW? (What Could Go Wrong?) meeting: brainstorming unexpected exceptions for other projects - if you help them figure out the potential issues, they'll be able to design around them. You'll get the same help (individual)
  • Schematic: Arduino and all associated electronics (sensors, motors, LEDs, etc.) (team)
  • Sensor and output validation: show, with isolated snippets of code, that you can accurately measure whatever sensors are measuring and accurately control any output devices (individual - one partner designs, executes, and videos illustration of inputs, the other does the outputs). Present these as Youtube videos
  • Landscape, including the "obstacles" and a goal. The robot needs to be able to detect when it's in the goal! (team)
  • The robot, fully functional (team)
  • Reflection on the process and the big question of how robots overcome obstacles and how that is similar to or different from how humans do (individual)

Each of the deliverables will be evaluated on the 11-point scale. Teams/individuals must earn at least 7 on a deliverable in order to proceed, with revision increasing the grade. The final evaluation will take place together, with the five arenas and robots moving towards their goals simultaneously. This is their 'exhibition,' and I'm planning to invite as large a committee as I can to make it an authentic experience. 

No comments:

Post a Comment