Spring term classes: 6.141J Robotics: Science and Systems I

Some background on 6.141J:

EECS Prof. and head instructor Seth Teller

“Robotics: Science and Systems I (6.141), also called “RSS,” is an intensive undergraduate introduction to robotics. The subject has both lectures and labs, with theoretical material introduced in lecture and put into practice in lab, often on the same afternoon.

RSS was conceived five years ago by faculty from the MIT EECS Department (Prof. Daniela Rus and Prof. Seth Teller) and Aeronautics/Astronautics Departments (Prof. Nick Roy), along with Dr. Una-May O’Reilly from CSAIL. The key idea behind RSS is to give students an interdisciplinary experience developing a real mobile robot, in which they would learn electrical engineering, computer science, and mechanical engineering. After 8-10 weeks of intensive structured laboratory work in which student teams build robots from supplied parts, a 5-week “course challenge” phase starts in which the teams must solve a high-level robotics problem with much less structure than the lab exercises. Teams must design and implement a robot capable of exploring a partially known environment, collecting small colored blocks, and using the blocks to build a structure of their own design. Students also learn how to deliver concise engineering presentations and debate ethical questions in robots. The most recent iteration of the class was taught in spring 2010, with 40 students working in eight teams of five students each. A few undergraduate alumni of RSS contribute to the class as LAs (Lab Assistants) each term as well, and some have even served as TAs after entering graduate school.

The class is highly challenging, and incorporates real-world experiences with failure: of batteries, of wiring, of control circuitry, of motors, of sensors, of algorithms, and even of designs and teams. Students learn about how to draw valuable lessons from failure, for example improving their mental models or testing procedures to succeed in spite of transient failures. Many of these lessons are applicable broadly to engineering of any complex systems, not just to robotics.

Each year the students write “reflective reports” about their experience in RSS and suggestions to improve it. We have incorporated many of these suggestions over the years and will continue to do so, making RSS truly a product of faculty-student collaboration. Alumni of RSS often move on to advanced undergraduate subjects at MIT, to graduate studies in robotics at MIT or elsewhere, or to industry.”

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