One floor up in the B Building, there is a feverish swarm of activity as more than one hundred students build robots in simulated industrial projects. The robots don’t just need to work; they’ll need to wipe the floor with their competitors.
Why doesn’t it move? Pär Lundgren, Catarina Tidbeck, and Mika Lindahl, brows furrowed, are working to get the control for the gripping arm to work; they call in Linus Mellberg, another of the group's members.
Linus is a systematics man, so once he’s asked his friends a few check-up questions, he asks them if they’re completely sure they’re getting an input signal. The testing equipment quickly comes out.
Meanwhile, at the next table, Mikael Rosell is working on writing the controller code, which sensors will send information in what order, and how the signals are to be received.
This afternoon, the group’s sixth member, Johannes Polbring, is busy with something else, but the group also spent several hours on Saturday getting started. Getting access to the Muxen labs, and finally being able to start building, is one of the milestones in the electronic projects course for students in Technical Physics and Electronics.
“Now that we’ve established the design specifications, what we need to do has become clearer and more concrete; it feels good to get started immediately,” Rosell says.
The course started in the middle of January, and is a mandatory course for third-year Civil Engineering students studying physics and electronics. The first few months dealt with planning and working out what, exactly, it is that the client wants. Through collaborating with the client, in this case the course leaders, they’ve developed the requirement specifications, a design plan, a timetable, a frame diagram, and a design layout for a form of computer-controlled apparatus.
For this group, it’s an issue of a robot that can get through a labyrinth, grab hold of an object at the end of the labyrinth, and bring the object back the way it came; faster than the others.
The students had seven different types of computer-controlled machinery to choose from, and the course ends with the same number of competitions.
“The projects are so complicated that six people are required to complete them in one term; half the course deals with methodology and project management, and the other half with hardware and software construction,” explains Tomas Svensson, course leader and Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering.
When Svensson or one of his colleagues, in this course playing roles as clients from the industry, approve a design specification, the students are let into Muxen, a well-equipped laboratory where they can then build to their hearts’ content, round the clock, yet not for as long as they want.
To emulate a real development project, they have 210 hours per person to economise with; the client will absolutely not pay for more.
If it turns out they won’t meet the requirements in that time, it’s then a question of negotiations with the client. Could any requirements be given lower priority?
“If they come to the exam with machinery that doesn’t meet the requirements agreed upon in the negotiations, they don’t pass the course,” Svensson states.
He is happy to go around the lab on a sunny spring afternoon among hundreds of young people busily constructing. It’s warm, and they’re concentrating hard on the task. Some of them are building circuit boards, while others, like Rosell, are writing programming code for the controls.
“We’re coding the sensor information, things like how it should be collected,” says Gustav Svensk, labouring in another corner along with Tobias Andersson.
This group, which consists of seven persons, is building what’s known as a combo robot. It has to successfully move along a line on the floor, and traverse a labyrinth. Along with a competing group, this group set up the rules of play for the concluding competition themselves (picture at right).
Project leader Simon Larsson is sitting with the embryo of a robot where the first sensors are being mounted.
“We want the communication component ready first before building further,” he tells us.
Even here it’s an issue of good collaboration in the group, negotiating with the client, and, ultimately, beating the competing group.
“There’s a little prestige in this, too,” Rosell says.
Creativity in engineering education
The project course was developed as part of CDIO (Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate), an initiative taken by Linköping University (LiU), MIT in Massachusetts, as well as KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Chalmers University, and to strengthen the creative element in engineering education.
Today, 50 universities in 25 countries have picked up the initiative. There are, generally speaking, CDIO courses in all of LiU’s engineering education programmes.
Muxen – an abbreviation of multiplexes, an electronics component that lets several users or processes share a communications channel, for example, or a data bus.
Photo of Mikael Rosell and Tomas Svensson: Göran Billeson
- Conceiving, Designing, Implementing, Operating real-world systems and products (CDIO)
- Division of Physics and Electronics at LiU
- MSc Wireless Networks and Electronics
- Department of Electrical Engineering (ISY)
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Last updated: 2013-06-18