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Introducing the simulation activities in Begin Robotics

Introducing the simulation activities in a free online course, Begin Robotics, by the University of Reading. Professor Richard Mitchell explains more.
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For this course, we’ve written a number of web pages, and the purpose of this video is to briefly introduce them. Some of the web pages illustrate aspects of robotics, and there’s a certain amount of interaction you do with them. Others are used for the exercises, where you work out how to command the robot.
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So for the demonstration pages, these have varying amounts of interaction. Some just show robots moving around, and the interaction is limited to you moving the robots or any obstacles. Other pages are used to illustrate particular techniques, and here you press buttons or check boxes and see what happens. Let’s briefly look at some of these.
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The first example is one where you have a number of robots moving around, and you can click on one and move it to a different position, or move its light. That’s a simple interaction, and here the idea is just to observe different behaviour.
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The second example is used to illustrate ultrasonic sensors and how they work, and here you press a button to start something and then you observe what happens. In this case, the beam comes out and gets reflected back, and you find out how long it takes for it to return.
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And this example here is used to illustrate how the wheels of the robot moves around. You specify a voltage, and that determines whether the wheel turns forwards or backwards. And you can say, well, in this case, one wheel is going backwards, one way’s forward. But if you change the left motor is now has a positive voltage, then both wheels are turning in the same direction. Just to help you understand it, you can rotate the robot around and then see what’s happening, or can get it to rotate automatically, or even view the robot in two dimensions. This helps you to understand the principles. In addition, we have a number of pages for the exercises in each of the four weeks.
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Here the aim is for you to experiment working out how to command a robot to behave in a particular way to achieve a certain task. The tasks are explained on the pages. Often you’re going to enter numbers, which set the speed of the motors, which drive the wheels of the robot. And then you will see a simulation of the robot moving at these speeds. If the robot isn’t doing what you want, then you can go back and change the numbers, and then see what happens. We’ll briefly explain one of these.
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In fact, this is the page you’ll use for the very first exercise, and you can see a robot in an arena, and what you do is to specify how it moves around. Web page is set up with some introduction, the task that you do. You interact with it with the mouse, but you can also use a keyboard, and the keyboard controls are also explained. So typically, you specify speed of a motor. So you put in a number, like four, and press start, and you’ll see the robot in this case turning around because the left motor is going one way, the right motor isn’t changing at all.
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If you put in a bigger number, then it will change at a bigger rate. If you specify speed for the other, it goes even faster. But you’ve then got an option here to tick the motor so it goes that way. And then if you click on the arena the robot is repositioned, and then you can stop it if you want. So that’s an example of an exercise.
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A few technical points on these pages. They use HTML5, which runs the language JavaScript, which means that your web browser must have JavaScript enabled. The pages of simulations of robots and graphs, and these use so-called canvas, which means that your web browser must support the canvas. Chrome and Firefox do that. Later versions of Internet Explorer are also OK. As I said, designed to use with the mouse, but you can also use a keyboard. And all the controls and tasks are explained on the pages.
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For each of the exercise pages, we provide short videos introducing what’s going on, what is expected, how to operate it. In addition, if for some reason you can’t run the pages, we also have videos which show our answers. And, in fact, if you have managed to do the exercise, you’ll want to compare what you’ve done with what I’ve done, you can also watch those videos. So we hope you find the pages useful, interesting, and fun. Thank you.

We’ve developed a series of simulations, specifically designed for this course. Some of these demonstrate an aspect of robotics and include buttons or check boxes that you can use to start an action or select an option and see the effect. For others, we’ll ask you to enter some values (often speeds of motors) to make the simulated robots perform a specific task.

The simulations use a ‘canvas’ to display robots and related items. Web browsers such as Firefox and Chrome support the canvas – so we recommend you use these. Some modern versions of Internet Explorer support the canvas, but not always in the same way.

These multi-device simulations work on laptops, tablets and mobiles – using a mouse or touchpad/ screen. You can also interact with them via a keyboard. We’ll provide instructions to guide you regarding which keys to use within each simulation. We’ll explain how to activate a box so you can enter a number, for example, toggle a checkbox or press a button.

We hope you enjoy using the simulations and if you get stuck at any point, post a comment in the relevant step as a mentor or another learner may be able to help you.

Please note that we have arranged that all these web pages can be accessed outside the FutureLearn platform – please see Begin Robotics Index. This was done following requests from participants in the first run, many of them teachers, who felt that the pages would be useful for their pupils.

In case you are unable to do the exercises yourself, or you would like to compare what you did with how Richard approaches the task, he has recorded himself doing each simulation in a video every week.

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