This book has evolved from class notes for the undergraduate Automation and Robotics
course at the National Taiwan University. The course was originally designed for senior
students in the Department of Civil Engineering, enhancing their understanding of
robotics technology and its potential. As this course does not have any prerequisites, it
has been adopted as a fundamental robotics class by many colleges in Taiwan.
In my experience with robot education, a top-down teaching approach works better
than teaching from fundamental theories. A top-down approach can help students think
of robots as a system rather than an assemblage of parts. Students will gain an understanding
of methods for integration, design trade-offs, and even teamwork, which are essential
skills to building robots. I have therefore designed many smaller examples, one for each
important concept in the course. Students work in groups and cooperate to follow course
notes and to implement each example, and then try to decipher the mechanism and theories
behind the examples. I have found that the top-down approach is very effective and
keeps students learning actively.
For the course, I selected Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio (MSRDS) as the software
platform and the Lego NXT education kit as the hardware platform. This combination is
ideal. MSRDS has modularized the sensors and actuators as different software services.
Students can use a visual programming language to link the services as visual information
flows between services. Programming the visual language is straightforward and even students
with little programming experience can learn it in a short time, given that they are
familiar with the logic of robot controls.