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Welcome to Week 2

Watch Professor Mitchell explain what will be covered in week two of the free online course, Begin Robotics, by the University of Reading.
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Welcome to week two of Begin Robotics, The Anatomy of a Robot. In the first week, we introduced the broad field of robotics. Now we’re going to concentrate on the components within a robot. Those that make it move, those that allow it to sense its environment, its brain that determines how it moves around, and how is it powered. So first, we’ll consider movement. Now, your robot will typically have some wheels. Might have two wheels, perhaps a caster wheel to stop it nosediving into the ground, or it might have more wheels with a track. In each case, you’re going to need a motor to drive the robot forward. But how do motors work?
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What do you do to make the motors drive at a particular speed? How do you make it go in the opposite direction? We will consider how motors operate. Proper operation of the robot requires it to sense its environment to ensure that it does things correctly without bumping into things, for instance. Some of the sensors will be internal, for measuring what speed it’s going at, or at what angle is it going. Others are external, when you’re trying to detect an object. How close is it? Where is it, for that matter? We will talk about these different sensors and how they operate, borrowing ideas from nature where that is appropriate.
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And then we consider the brain of the robot, that decides overall what the robot is going to do. Typically, this is a computer, though our very early robots didn’t, in fact, have any computer on them. They just had a memory to decide what to do. Sometimes, the robot operates on its own, autonomously. Other times, a robot is communicating from some external computer. So we’ll talk about single robots, multiple robots, overall control. The brain behind them. And then we need to consider, how do we power the robot. If it’s an autonomous one, moving around, then batteries are the obvious thing. But, of course, batteries run down, and you have to change them quit often.
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One way around that is to have a series of wires, but they can get all tangled up as the robots move, particularly when there are lots of them. At Reading, we came up with quite a novel solution to this, a powered floor, and this was employed in various exhibits that we produced for the science museum, and other museums around the world, in fact. So in this week, we will explore these ideas using some of Reading’s robots, including ERIC, a robot that we designed specifically for this course, as well as our Rover robot, which we use for our so-called cybernetics challenge. We’ll describe the components within those robots, and how they operate.
This week we focus on the robot itself; the constituent parts (its anatomy). This includes:
  • the means to allow it to move
  • and to sense its environment
  • its ‘brain’
  • its power supply
These are crucial to having an operating robot but are not the full picture. For instance, we also have to:
  • ensure the robot does move as we want it to
  • decide on suitable actions of the robot
These aspects will be considered later in the course.
We’re keen to hear your thoughts as you progress through the course. Please use the comments section below to communicate with other Learners. From the 6 July for 4 weeks (until 2 August) the course will be facilitated by Ahmed Ashlam, from the Department of Computer Science, University of Reading. He will be supporting the discussions found at the end of each Step during this time. You can ‘follow’ mentors to see their responses to other Learners; you just need to view their 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’.
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