Introduction to Robotics

Rethink Robotics "Baxter"

Rethink Robotics “Baxter”

This class will teach the basics of how robots move, how they can sense (perception), and how they can reason about their environment (planning) using Rethink Robotics’ “Baxter”, a two-arm manipulator robot.

Lecture materials are supported by computer exercises using the robot operating system ROS and the simulation software “Gazebo” . Exercises will cover understanding ROS, planning and programming  and are geared to prepare the students to implement a project on the “Baxter” robot, leading to a poster demonstration at the end of the class.

The students will work in teams of 2 to 3 and develop controllers  putting concepts taught in class into practice.

Prerequisites: programming experience in C/C++ and/or Python, discrete math class, trigonometry and probability theory.
Meetings: Monday 4:00-5:15pm ECCR 139, Friday 10:00-12:30 ECCS 112. Part of the meetings will also be in the Systems lab ECCS 1B08 where students have access to a Baxter robot and other hardware.
Textbook: We will be using “Introduction to Autonomous Robots” by N. Correll. This book is available online (source via and is printed on demand, available via Createspace,, or any bookstore. This book is work-in-progress and feedback is welcome.
The distributed robotic garden in MIT Technology review. Advanced Robotics 2011 The "Ratslife" environment PrairieDog with a CrustCrawler manipulating arm


Week 1 – Aug 25 Message passing in ROS (Lab 1) Class Overview
Week 2 – Sep 1 Labor Day Holiday
Week 3 – Sep 8 Transformations in ROS (Lab 2) Locomotion and Manipulation
Week 4 – Sep 15 Forward and Inverse Kinematics I Screencasts:

Week 5- Sep 22 Path planning using MoveIt!(Lab 3) Forward and Inverse Kinematics II: mobile robots  Homework 1
Week 6 – Sep 29 Forward and Inverse Kinematics III: Denavit-Hartenberg scheme and numerical methods
Week 7 – Oct 6 Vision using OpenCV (Lab 4) Path Planning
Week 8 – Oct 13 Sensors  Homework 2
Week 9 – Oct 20 Introduction to Baxter SDK Vision
Week 10 – Oct 27 Project Feature extraction
Week 11 – Nov 3 Project Uncertainty and Error Propagation
Week 12 – Nov 10 Project Localization
Week 13 – Nov 17 Project The Kalman Filter  Homework 3
Week 15 – Dec 1 Project Case study: precise assembly of telescope trusses
(Erik Komendera)
Week 16 – Dec 8 Project presentations Course-wrap-up / Q&A


The “Introduction class” is offered as CSCI 3302 and ECEE 3303 in Fall 2014. We are meeting twice a week. There will be a lab in the first week of class.

Please visit me in my office ECOT 733 or lab ECCS1B21 or by appointment.


Lab assignments will require access to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, ROS Hydro and Gazebo. This software is available via the CSEL machines as well as on a computer next to the Baxter robot.

Optimally, you install ROS Hydro and Gazebo on your notebook computer, which will allow you to simulate and control Baxter in the lab, following these instructions.


  • 45% Homework
  • 55% Project / Labs / Class participation


Homework focussing on theory will be available from this website in due course.



The final deliverable for the project is a demo and 36 x 24 (width x height) poster.


  • Robots putting humans out of work is a risk that needs to be mitigated.  Group 1 is Yes and Group 2 is No.
  • As robots from autonomous lawnmowers to robotic cars are sold as “intelligent systems”, liability for robots should entirely lie by its manufacturer.  Group 3 is both Pro and Contra.
  • Robots should have the capability to autonomously discharge weapons / drive around in cities (autonomous cars).  Group 4 is Yes and Group 5 is No.
  • Intelligence is only possible with embodiment.  Group 6 is Yes and Group 7 is No.
  • Robots do not need to be as cognitive as humans in order to be useful as making the environment intelligent is sufficient.
  • Robots need to be made differently than from links, joints, and gears in order to reach the agility of people
Debates will be evaluated in equal parts to the
  • quality of the presentation and defense. Note: it is not your personal opinion that counts but to execute a clear Pro or Contra argument.
  • quality of the background research. What is the (technical) state of the art in robotics in your debate topic?
  • ability to ground arguments in technical facts.


Please refer to the following guidelines on disability, medical conditions, religious observances, behavioral rules, and honor code.

Previous classes


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