Explore the history, anatomy and intelligence of robots with this free online course. Test drive robots using exciting simulations

70,221 enrolled on this course

Scampi is a 28 gram walking robot created by Robotics student Rory Mangles and is mostly made of paperclips.
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Robots today are roving Mars, collecting data in dangerous environments, hoovering our floors, lifting patients in hospital, building cars and entertaining us in films. And, if you share Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking’s world view, the super intelligent ones may one day bring about the end of the human race.

We’ve all heard about them, but how many of us know what makes a robot a robot? And can anyone get a robot to do a particular task?

An introduction to robotics

If you’d like to find out more, but are worried that you don’t have Hawking’s brain or an advanced qualification in cybernetics, this four week, free online course is for you.

We’re not planning to sit you down with a soldering iron, but we will introduce you to the basics of robot design through a series of simulations that will have you test driving an Eric – our very own University of Reading mobile robot.

How far back does Robot history go?

We’ll start by looking at some of the earliest, real and fictional robots ever invented: from musical automata in 13th century Iraq to Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical lion; from the early 20th century science fiction of “Metropolis” and Asimov to the first Mars lander in 1996.

Look inside a mobile robot

After dipping into robot history, you’ll be ready to get more hands on. Our experts will guide you through the basics. Using a combination of videos, animations, screencasts, articles, discussions and quizzes, you’ll explore the internals of mobile robots.

You’ll find out about the individual components of robot anatomy (the mechanics, electronics and computer “brain”) and how they relate to one another and to the sensors - the parts that enable the machine to perceive its surroundings.

Next, you’ll tackle the motors: how do you control your robot to help it avoid obstacles, head in the right direction and travel at an optimum speed?

A “thinking” machine?

In the final week, you’ll investigate the thought-provoking topic of robot behaviour.

  • What can we learn about developing robots based on what we know about living systems?
  • If we introduce a simple “brain”, what influence does this have on the robot’s behaviour?
  • How is a robot’s movement specified by what it perceives?
  • Can we create robots with basic instincts, and the ability to learn and co-operate with one another?

Come and join us for this action-packed course. We look forward to hearing why you’re interested in finding out more about robots and hope you’ll enjoy meeting many of ours.

Through our weekly video feature, “Meet the Robots at Reading,” you’ll find out more about our collection: from machines built by our students from scratch; to Baxter (the first of a new generation of smarter, more adaptive interactive industrial robots); to one or two special guests, who you may recognise from elsewhere.

Scampi (pictured above) is a 28 gram walking robot created by Robotics student Rory Mangles and is mostly made of paperclips.

This course is taken from our Make it Digital collection - part of the BBC’s major initiative to inspire digital creativity.

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What topics will you cover?

Week 1:

  • An introduction to robotics from a cybernetic perspective
  • Overview of different types of robots and their application
  • History of robotics
  • Introduction to the robot simulations used in the course
  • Simple problem solving – commanding a mobile robot to move

Week 2:

  • A description of the components of a robot – sensors, actuators, ’brain’ and power supply
  • An understanding of different sensors, their operation and application
  • A description of motors, and how their velocity is set, and other robotic actuators
  • More problem solving – how to command a robot to achieve tasks on the basis of sensor information

Week 3:

  • Feedback for control and human-machine interaction
  • An explanation of feedback control, introduced in terms of Kybernetes the steersman and robot speed control
  • An appreciation of feedback control in other applications (including balance, temperature, damping oscillations)
  • Simple mathematical modelling of robots and different forms of control strategies
  • Human-Computer Interaction – again feedback, also including haptics
  • More problem solving – commanding a robot to follow a path

Week 4:

  • Feedback for Learning and robot- robot interaction
  • An appreciation of neuron based brains through Braitenburg vehicles
  • Robot learning by trial and error
  • Multiple robots and artificial life, relating to biological processes
  • More problem solving, including robot traversing a maze

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe different forms of robot and applications where they may be used
  • Determine the appropriate commands to allow a robot to achieve particular tasks using information from sensors
  • Appreciate how aspects of robotics can be applied in many different scenarios

Who is the course for?

This course explores the basics of robotics. It doesn’t assume any prior knowledge and you don’t need to own your own robot to take part.

The exercise steps in this course will work using Chrome, Safari, Opera and Firefox browsers. They will also work on Internet Explore 9, 10 and 11 - however, earlier versions of this browser will not support these steps. You must have JavaScript enabled.

This course includes video content and other visual teaching methods. As such, blind and visually impaired students may need a helper.

Please be aware that this course contains video clips that include sequences of flickering/flashing lights which might affect learners who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy.

Who will you learn with?

I am Professor of Cybernetics in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Reading. My interests include Education, Computing, Control, Robotics, AI Gaia Theory and Programming.

Teaching Fellow and Doctoral candidate at the University of Reading. Currently writing my thesis on novel materials for multilayer infrared filters for space based applications.

Professor of Interactive & Human Systems at the University of Reading.

Who developed the course?

University of Reading

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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