The future of learning robotics

Samantha Chavanic
October 18, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Engineering students at Penn State are being challenged to identify opportunities for new, impactful robotic system applications that could be available within the next 10 years, using a robotics learning kit developed by global semiconductor design and manufacturing company Texas Instruments (TI).

Capable of completing a complex series of actions automatically, robotic systems are used in a wide variety of applications, including logistics, police operations, health care, and in construction. They are often tasked with jobs that are considered “dull, dirty and dangerous” — the “Three Ds.” As robots are increasingly used to complete these types of tasks, the need for discussions centered around potential challenges — including ethical dilemmas and worker displacement — also increases. To positively impact society, these systems must improve lives with little disruption.

Texas Instruments tasked the students to consider not just the potential application, but also the challenges associated with the use and adoption of robotic systems, through the use of the robotics learning kit. With endless possibilities, the students will reflect on advances in robotics technology, societal acceptance of robots and the policies and support systems needed in order to increase the use of robotics aimed at improving human life. 

“It’s clear that robots and robotic systems are already beginning to change our lives,” said Sven Bilén, head of Penn State's School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs and professor of engineering design, electrical engineering and aerospace engineering. 

To answer TI’s call, students will focus on one, or a combination, of the “Three Ds” to develop a new robotics system concept for a targeted market space. Student teams will be introduced to the world of robotics by investigating the Texas Instruments Robotics System Learning Kit (TI-RSLK) MAX. Each team will build the TI-RSLK MAX robot and use it initially to complete simple tasks and to learn more about how robotic systems work. 

“The TI-RSLK is designed to teach university students the engineering concepts behind building a functioning robotic system,” Doug Phillips, TI’s university marketing director, said. “With the TI-RSLK MAX, students are problem-solving, learning through trial, fixing their errors by debugging hardware and software and learning how to apply this knowledge to real-world applications in the industry.”

After using the TI-RSLK MAX to better understand robotics as a system of inputs and outputs, teams will begin designing their new robotic concepts. During the engineering design process, students will explore possible markets and identify one or more of interest, design and prototype a system that addresses a specific design opportunity in the chosen market and review and evaluate their design. Potential markets fall into three categories: new markets, emerging markets and mature markets. 

“This project will allow the students to explore how robots will impact the future, and to help them understand the broader ethical and cultural aspects surrounding their deployment in various applications,” Bilén said. 

To better understand the broader environment in which their systems will be integrated and operated, student teams must create a team definition of what constitutes a “robot”; explore ethical constraints related to robots; understand the public perception of robots and how it may differ across countries and cultures; and investigate the economics related to robotic systems. 

By providing first-year students with the opportunity to conceptualize a project, from identifying a need; understanding design goals and completing background research; and designing, creating and evaluating a prototype, TI aims to build awareness of its technology and encourage the development of real-world solutions and applications. 

“Texas Instruments strongly believes in supporting engineering education through hands-on learning, including design projects that enable students to translate technology into solutions,” Phillips said. “By facilitating the inclusion of our analog and embedded processing technology in the learning experience for engineering students, TI is working to bridge the gap between business and academia, bringing real-world engineering concepts to life for thousands of students every year.”

Final projects will be displayed at the Fall 2019 College of Engineering Design Showcase held on Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Bryce Jordan Center on the University Park campus.

About EDSGN 100

Engineering Design (EDSGN) 100 provides students with a foundation for engineering design through hands-on team projects that address specified design opportunities. Through this course, students recognize the roles that engineering and design have in improving the health, safety and welfare of the global community, as well as identifying when a solution is technically feasible, economically viable, and desirable. Students use a range of design tools and techniques to carry out and communicate their design processes as applied to their projects. Additionally, students develop and practice professional skills, such as communication, teamwork and ethical decision making.

About Texas Instruments Inc.

From connected cars and intelligent homes to self-monitoring health devices and automated factories, Texas Instruments Inc. products are at work in virtually every type of electronic system. With operations in more than 30 countries, TI engineers, manufactures, tests and sells analog and embedded semiconductor chips. Its approximately 30,000 employees worldwide are driven by core values of integrity, innovation and commitment, and work every day to shape the future of technology.

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Last Updated October 22, 2019