Author: Dr Rob Wortham -
This is the second part of Dr Rob Wortham's blog. Read part 1.
Robotic Platform Engineering
Robotic Platform Engineering covers a whole raft of topics from sensors and actuators through to microcontroller platforms and simple robot kinematics. It provides an introduction to the elements involved in the design and manufacture of physical robot systems. In previous years students have worked with robot arms and have prepared designs for pipe robots (robots that operate within pipework for inspection purposes).
This year students were set the goal of designing a survey robot to operate on Mars. This video introduces the project and four students demonstrate their simulations, developed within the CoppeliaSim robotics simulation tool.
Here is a video where four of the students demonstrate their work.
Students were taught how to use CoppeliaSim entirely online, and their work was assessed online using Zoom, very much in the same manner as the video above. Weekly online workshop sessions gave students the opportunity to demonstrate their work as it evolved, and to ask questions where they had problems.
Challenges and Future Opportunities
The main challenge with supporting students on any software remotely is that it’s not straightforward to interact directly with their laptop. Zoom and Teams do not include any facilities for remote PC interaction. Another challenge with online teaching is that students tend to interact less with one another to help solve one another’s issues. This is a general problem and difficult to overcome with online-only teaching generally. Neither of these challenges became a significant issue in this unit, as CoppeliaSim is well documented and easy to install and learn.
As we return to the lab, an opportunity exists in this unit to explore the digital twin concept. Here students develop a physical robot solution and concurrently develop a simulation of the same environment with a simulated robot. A full simulation of our Niryo-1 robot arms exists within CoppeliaSim and so an opportunity exists to explore this going forwards.
Overall, we have learned a great deal about how to design and run teaching involving simulation environments. There is of course always more to learn, but we have a solid foundation to move forwards, particularly in a hybrid learning environment.