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Welcome to the course

Professor Richard Mitchell gives an overview of what will be covered on Begin Robotics, a free online course by the University of Reading.
Welcome to Begin Robotics, an introduction to robotics with an online course from the cybernetic point of view. My name is Richard Mitchell. And I’ve been here at the University of Reading for nearly 40 years– first as a student, and since as a Lecturer and Associate Professor, specialising in robotics, control and cybernetics. Robotics is a large subject, which you can approach from different viewpoints. You might first of all consider programming the robot– how is it going to achieve a particular task? So that would be approaching it from the computer science point of view. You might like to think about the actual machine– the mechanical engineering aspects.
There are plenty of electronics within a robot, so we could approach it from an electronic engineering point of view. Modern robots, perhaps, can be intelligent, in which case we need to think about the artificial intelligence view– how the robot behaves. But in this course, we’re going to bring it all together and look at the whole system. So we are approaching it from a cybernetic point of view. And that means feedback.
So because we’re approaching robotics from a different view, I use this Maurits Escher-inspired picture. Whereas the original shows a moonscape from different viewpoints, here we use the different arches to show different aspects of robotics. So if we look at the top window, we see a steersman. And that’s because cybernetics comes from the Greek word for steersman– the person who’s trying to keep his boat on course despite external factors like wind, and tide, and so forth. How he achieves that is by using feedback control. Feedback’s a crucial word. In the second window, slightly down to the right, we see a manipulator robot. How would you control the grip to ensure it’s in the right place? Answer– use feedback control.
In the bottom window, we see a little mobile robot. We’re going to have lots of mobile robots in this course. Again, the mobile robot needs to travel in the right direction and at the right speed. How do we ensure that? We use feedback control. So feedback for control is very much part of the course here on robotics. Below the manipulator robot, you see a brain. Why’s that? Well, we want our robot to be able to work out for itself how to work– to learn. And learning, you’ll be pleased to note, is a feedback process. We will explain that more. Another key aspect of robotics is interaction, which is also a feedback process.
How does a robot react to its surroundings, or interact with other robots, or even humans? Related to this is the study of human-machine interaction, where perhaps the ultimate system is virtual reality, which is depicted in the arch on the left. The goggles you see there are used so the human can see what an artificial world looks like. In this course, we consider how humans can feel artificial worlds using robotic devices. Finally, in the middle we see some electronics, because key to the system is to have some electronics. Where we have to measure signals using our senses, they perhaps need amplifying, which, again, is achieved using feedback. So feedback fits into all the aspects of our robots.
This video will introduce you to the topics we’ll be covering over the next four weeks, and what you’ll need to do to get started. Transcripts are available for all videos and are located just underneath the video on each page. If you’re new to FutureLearn, why not familiarise yourself with the Using FutureLearn section.
Please be aware that this video and some others in the course, contains a sequence of flashing/flickering lights which might affect Learners who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy.
The team
You may find that you come up against some challenges in the course. Following the FutureLearn profiles of our team will make it easier for you to find the advice they have given in response to similar queries.
Follow our educators:
Richard Mitchell Professor of Cybernetics
William Harwin Professor of Interactive & Human Systems
Your mentor, Jason Dookarun will be supporting the discussions found at the end of each Step between 28 June and 25th July. You can ‘follow’ him to see his responses to other Learners; you just need to view his profile and click the ‘Follow’ button. By following a profile, any comments made will appear in your activity feed, which you can filter by selecting ‘Following’.
Jason will aim to answer your questions where he can but we can’t promise that he’ll be able to respond to everyone.


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We’d like to include a special thanks here to Microchip for generously allowing us to use their film studio, located at their European Headquarters based in Wokingham in the UK, to record Richard’s introductory videos for each week of the course. Microchip also provide the microcontroller and analogue parts that we use within our ERIC robot, designed and built specifically for this course.
Thanks also go to Paul Minchinton, for designing ERIC and for his work with Steve Gould for the ROVER robot.
We also would like to mention Ally Barrow who implemented the Escher inspired figure.
Introduce yourself
Tell us something about yourself and get to know some of your classmates in the comment area. Who are you? Why are you taking the course? What sparked your interest in robotics?
Share your thoughts below and have a look at other comments. You can ‘Like’ and reply to other Learners’ comments. You can also filter comments to see those that are ‘Most liked’ and find your own by selecting ‘My comments’.
If you’re mentioning the course on social media you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook and tag comments with #FLRobotics.
Don’t forget to Mark this Step as complete before moving onto the next Step.
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Begin Robotics

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