Course Description


This is a 1.0 CU research-patterned, open-ended, laboratory-focused course addressing the interface between robotics and integrative biology. The goal is to identify and then explore (and possibly add to) a specific corner of the scientific literature wherein it is possible to reach the horizons of knowledge quickly because the relevant empirical tools have only recently become available for broad use. We will focus attention on the development of complex adaptive behavior in a legged robotic system with emphasis on such modalities as locomotion, manipulation, situational awareness, localization and mapping and so on.

Students will pursue experimental work primarily focused on the Junior educational robot platform recently adapted from the RHex research platform. The initial weeks of the class will offer instructor-generated lecture content and laboratory exercises. As the semester progresses, effort and attention will shift towards the planning, presentation, and execution of original group projects. Warmup lab exercises will include robot terrain classification, sensor adaptation and analysis, and movement dynamics and navigation. Final group projects will aim for new, original hypotheses that yield new sensorimotor capabilities. Credit will be based upon a series of individual and group project written and oral exercises and reports.

The course will stress the scientific model of inquiry, knowledge creation and knowledge communication as pursued in the modern research lab. The rationale and philosophy behind this teaching paradigm is elaborated in an accompanying statement of course philosophy. The ideal outcome would be a technically cogent report on a novel set of experiments that can lead to a refereed publication at a professional meeting. Not all groups will accomplish this, but this is the target. Those who reach the target – whose papers are submitted and accepted at a refereed venue – will have their travel to the meeting supported by the department.

Contacts, Place, Time

  • Class Meetings: Tu & Th 1:30 - 3:00 in Towne 305 and Ketterer Lab
  • Instructor's Contact Information and Office Hours
    • Instructor: D. E. Koditschek
    • Office Hours: Tu & Th 3:00 - 4:00 Moore 202
    • or by appointment via ude.nnepu.saes|tebogam#tebogaM seroleD
  • TA's Contact Information and Office Hours
    • Teaching Assistant: ude.nnepu.saes|zinedb#nahlI zineD
    • Office Hours: TBA



  • Lecture Notes, Lab manual generated by the instructors.
  • Technical papers from the archival literature in robotics and integrative and comparative biology.
  • Regular weekly creation and consumption of content on the course wiki (see syllabus and online assignments for details)


These resources for technical communication have been recommended by our TCP Staff:

  • The Craft of Scientific Writing, Michael Alley, Springer , 3rd Edition (1996)
    • [placed on closed reserve in the SEAS Library ]
  • Technical Communication: Situations and Strategies, Mike Markel, St. Martin’s (1996)
    • [placed on closed reserve in the SEAS Library ]
  • Using the Engineering Literature, Editor Bonnie Osif, Routledge (2006)
  • Information Sources in Engineering, Edited by Roderick MacLeod & Jim Corlett, KG Saur (2005)
  • Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals, Irene Hames, Blackwell Publishing (2007)


  • ESE 116 (or equivalent) and Math 240, or by instructor permission.
  • Junior standing as measured by one of the following prior sophomore level courses (or equivalent):
    • ESE 215 or 210; or
    • MEAM 215 or 220; or
    • MSE 220 or
    • CSE 240

Philosophy and Organization

Much of our effort this semester will be devoted to the development of critical thinking required to learn some body of technical material, and in the process, potentially, add one’s own (necessarily) small increment to that body of knowledge. Our point of view is that the engagement required for mastery of complex technical material starts with some intense personal curiosity. This launches a plunge into the mine of knowledge with the best chance of finding an unexplored seam and tracing its new veins toward intellectual treasure.


Part I

Introduction (initial three weeks)

Introduction to the domain of bioinspiration in engineering with a robotics focus and particular emphasis on locomotion. Familiarization with the robots (and other available equipment); learn the various associated tools. Students form groups through lab warmup exercises. Familiarization with mechanics of literature search and assessment of quality of resources.
Asssignments include sequence of pre-lab exercises and familiarization with search for technical source materials. .

Part II

Literature Search and Problem Statement (second quarter of the semester)

Commit to a specific research-style question along with a specific group of collaborators; complete the "midterm" exam by working through the prior literature and (possibly, for extra credit) posting to Wikipedia (within the university projects effort) an encyclopedia article that will eventually evolve into the "background literature" section of the final paper. Present a draft and then final version of the literature review and problem statement to the class.

Assignments include the sequence: Comms-C1 (sources), Comms-C.2 (annotations), Comms-C.3 (Written Group Formulation), and Comms-C.4 (Oral Group Proposal Presentation).

Part III

Empirical Exercise (third quarter of the semester)

Perform an original (or, possibly duplicate or augment a previously proposed) experiment and measurements with the EduBots that attempts to move ahead the frontiers of research relating to the specific research question.

Assignments include: Comms-C.5 (Group Writeup of Methods and Setup) and Comms-C.6 (Group Written Draft of Final Technical Report).

Part IV

Report Writing and Presentations (fourth quarter of the semester)

Write up the results and develop an oral presentation - both of which must be submitted to the "class conference" (on this Course Wiki where reviews and revisions can take place in private) for peer review.

Assignments include: Comms-C.7 (Group Oral Presentation), Comms-C.8. (Group Written Final Technical Report), Comms-C.9 (Iindividual written reviews) and Comms-C.10 (Individual Evaluations).

Tentative Schedule

Lectures and Lab Exercises

Week Day Topic
00 Jan 13 Lecture: General Introduction and Administration
01 Jan 18 Guest Lecture: Searching
Jan 20 Lab 0: Introduction
02 Jan 25 Guest Lecture: Writing
Jan 27 Lab 1: Mathematical Underpinnings of a RHex Gait
03 Feb 01 Lecture: Mechanical Aspects of Locomotion
Feb 03 Lab 2: Dynamics of Steering
04 Feb 08 Lecture: Neuromechanical Aspects of Locomotion
Feb 10 Lab 2: Dynamics of Steering
05 Feb 15 Precognitive-Neuro Implications of Locomotion
Feb 17 Lab 2: Dynamics of Steering
06 Feb 22 Precognitive-Social Implications of Locomotion
Feb 24 Lab 3: Proprioceptive Sensing and Locomotion
07 Mar 01 Presentations
Mar 03 Lab 3: Proprioceptive Sensing and Locomotion
08 Mar 15 Robot Experiments
Mar 17 Robot Experiments
09 Mar 22 Robot Experiments
Mar 24 Robot Experiments
10 Mar 29 Robot Experiments
Mar 31 Robot Experiments
11 Apr 05 Robot Experiments
Apr 07 Robot Experiments
12 Apr 12 Robot Experiments
Apr 14 Robot Experiments
13 Apr 19 Robot Experiments
Apr 21 Robot Experiments
14 Apr 26 Final Report and Presentations


Groups will author a sequence of reports that move from literature review to hypothesis formation to experimental design and implementation and finally to the production of a technical paper. All final group reports must include:

  1. some aspect of mathematical modeling and analysis
  2. some evidence of original code (either for driving the robot or analyzing the data or both), <br>and<br>
  3. a well referenced account of the relevant engineering and biological literature.

A series of warm up laboratories will be completed in the first five weeks of class. Each laboratory score will consist of a prelab, demonstration, and report grade. The prelab and lab report are individual work, while the demonstration will count as a group grade. Laboratories and report questions are meant to stimulate a creative learning process, and grading will place an emphasis on how students approach and solve the problem.

Group credit (G) will be shared equally by all members of the group and will be based upon the instructor's and TA's evaluations as well as collegial assessments. Individual credit (I) will be earned for the quality of the individual student’s written blind reviews of the (written and oral) group reports as well as a series of warm-up laboratory exercises. Various written or oral assignments that accrue credit toward these two aspects of the course will be due (almost) weekly. In addition, each Lab experiment will end with a series of competitive games. Competition credit (C) will be shared equally by all members of winning groups for various phases. The final score will be evaluated as:

TOTAL = 0.4 I + 0.5 G + 0.1 C

Due Dates and Scoring

Week Day Assignment Due Individual Score Group Score Competition
01 Jan 20 Prelab 0 -> Class Wiki 0.1
02 Jan 25 Comms-C.1 (Sources) -> Class Wiki 0.1
Jan 27 Prelab 1 -> Blackboard 0.1
Lab Report 0 -> Blackboard 0.1
Competition 1 0.15
03 Feb 01 Comms-C.2 (Annotations) -> Class Wiki 0.1
Feb 03 Prelab 2 -> Blackboard 0.1
Lab Report 1 -> Blackboard 0.1
05 Feb 15 Comms-C.3 (Formulation) -> Class Wiki 0.1
06 Feb 24 Prelab 3 -> Blackboard 0.1
Competition 2 0.45
Feb 26 Lab Report 2 -> Blackboard 0.1
07 Mar 01 Comms-C.4 (Proposal) -> Class Wiki 0.2
Mar 05 Lab Report 3 -> Blackboard 0.1
08 Mar 17 Competition 3 0.4
09 Mar 22 Comms-C.5 (Methods) -> Class Wiki 0.1
11 Apr 08 Comms-C.6 (Draft Report) -> Class Wiki 0.1
14 Apr 26 Comms-C.8 (Final Report) -> Blackboard 0.2
Apr 26 Comms-C.7 (Presentation) -> Class Wiki 0.2
Journal Entries -> Class Wiki 0.1
Total Scores 1 1 1