Engineering and Computer Science Faculty Receive NSF Grant and MathWorks Award

Dr. James Peyton Jones

The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year, $150,000 Course Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement Grant entitled “Introducing Undergraduates to Complex Systems through Rapid Prototyping of Low-Cost, Networked Mobile Robots” to a team of faculty from the Colleges of Engineering and Liberal Arts & Sciences. In support of the project, MathWorks, maker of the MATLAB® / Simulink® computational environment, has awarded $44,000, and Nokia has donated 20 handheld Internet Tablets.

“The use of mobile robots in education has been shown to increase student engagement, but the pedagogical aims are sometimes lost in low-level programming issues,” said Dr. James Peyton Jones, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director of the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics and Control. “We want to focus attention back on the pedagogical goals and introduce undergraduates to higher-level challenges, such as the complex interactions between groups of wirelessly networked robots.”

To achieve these goals, Dr. Peyton Jones, the PI on the proposal, and co-PIs Dr. Sarvesh Kulkarni, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Dr. C. Nataraj, Professor and Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Dr. Frank Klassner, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Center for Enterprise Technology, are exploiting the computational power and networking ability of new low-cost consumer products and developing the tools necessary to program them with minimal effort. Students will be able to formulate their designs in a high-level MATLAB® and Simulink® environment and then, at the click of a button, to implement them using rapid-prototyping techniques on one of two target devices, the Lego® Mindstorm® NXT or, for more complex algorithms, the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet.

In addition to developing the rapid-prototyping toolset for the Nokia N800, the PIs will create modules that demonstrate how the target platforms can be used in different courses and disciplines. As Dr. Peyton Jones noted, “Rapid-prototyping techniques are widely used in research and industry, so students will be better prepared when they enter the workforce.”