Autonomous Mobile Robot on edX: a Review

I completed my first online course several days ago. I was skeptical about this novel media of learning since it does not allow a direct touch with the professor. However, I finished my first online course and in this post I’m going to share my experience with you.

The online course that I took is Autonomous Mobile Robot on edX. This course is provided by professors from ETH Zurich, one of the best university in the world, especially for autonomous systems. To have a certificate, you have to pay an upgrade fee and complete this course within a certain time range.

Source: edX

The course consists of weekly overview, lecture segments, problem set, and quizzes. For every new topic, they will provide you a weekly overview on what to expect from that particular topic. Next, they have some 8-15 minutes videos to learn. It shows a slide and a handwritten notes on it. Lastly, to validate the student capability, one has to answers question from problem set and quizzes.

Discussed Topics

I learnt some new concepts from this course. Firstly, I was introduced to “Locomotion Concepts” and “Mobile Robot Kinematics”. In these topics, I learnt how to model a dynamic system such as legged and wheeled robots. I had to solve problem related to the dynamic modelling as well as its control using inverse kinematics and forward kinematics.

The following topic is “Perception”, in which they introduce me to sensors and computer visions. Essentially, this is how your robot “see” the environment. This topic is very interesting because it allows me to know how sensors, especially camera, work and how to extract meaningful information from this devices. However, the problem set does not deeply elaborate the technical aspects. They mostly asked a conceptual question on the methods for computer vision. Therefore, to understand deeply, you need to practice a lot by yourself.

After perception, next is “Localization”. This topic allows me to understand how to find a position of a robot in a known environment. They teaches some methods such as Markov and Extended Kalman Filter (EKF) Localization. From this topic, I understand localization method for both discretized and continuous environment, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.

In contrast to localization, the next topic, “Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM)” is a method to localize a robot in an unknown environment. This is one of the most critical part in today robotics. Most of the robots are deployed in an unexplored place and one has to keep track of it. For this course, they teach the basic of SLAM, which is graphical representation of robot states and environment’s features. Then they explain further on the optimization of SLAM and elaborate it for EKF SLAM.

Surprisingly, after this completing this topic, I had an interview with a Japanese drone company. They asked me a lot of things related to drone and its automation , including SLAM. After explaining the EKF SLAM that I studied, they said they’re not using it in their company and they explain briefly on what they’re working on. This opened my mind that there are a lot of SLAM method out there and this course only covers a small part of it.

The last topic of this course is “Planning”, in which they teach you how a robot can navigate from a start to a specified goal. For this topic, they provided me a lecture on potential field planning as well as A*. On the problem set, one to solve a planning exercise using both methods. However, the planning problem is not integrated with the “actuation” part. In my opinion, elaborating it allows the student to understand deeply how it works in real life.

Review

In my opinion, this is a good starting point to learn about robotics. One can build a basic knowledge and sense after finishing this course. The problem set is really helpful to understand the concept and validate your knowledge. They also provide you with two quizzes, which are harder than the problem set.

However, some questions in the problem set are not well defined, making it harder to solve it as you are not certain on what is expected and the format of your answer. Wrong formatting will lead to a wrong answer.

The courses is also not well maintained, one probably has answer to his/her question after a few weeks. This makes students find difficulties to continue their progress. I assume this thing happened because the course is launched long time ago and not a lot of people doing it right now.

Overall, as long as one has the required basic to do this course, such as mathematics and basic programming, it is a good introduction to robotics. Oh, and here’s my certificate from the online course! Check out this photo below or this link!

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