CS 393R: Autonomous Robots
This class is a graduate introduction to autonomous robotics. It will
share lectures with the undergraduate class
CS 344R, but will have somewhat different requirements. See below.
As of today (8-19-08), the material below describes this year's class. Things may
be adjusted, and adjustments will be announced on this web site and in class.
A robot is a computational system coupled with the physical world
through its sensors and effectors. An intelligent robot learns
about its world from experience, and uses the knowledge it accumulates
to make better plans to achieve its goals. Robotics is hard, partly
because it crosses many of the abstraction boundaries that simplify
other areas of computer science.
This course has two goals. First, a number of important theories and
techniques are taught, important to perception and action in a
partially-known world. Second, students will work in teams, applying
these methods to get intelligent behavior from physical robots.
We will be using the Sony
Most of the practical part of the class will be done in teams of three
students, each with a robot. There will be limited space due to the
limited number of robots.
If you have not been able to register for the class, please contact
Professor Kuipers. There will be a small number of additional spaces
and a waiting list.
A robot is an intelligent system in continuous sensorimotor
interaction with its environment.
Control laws are continuous dynamical systems that can be designed to
bring the robot along a trajectory or keep it near a setpoint in spite
of limited knowledge and sensor and motor errors.
Kalman filters can be used to track a moving target from incomplete
observations, or to track a moving robot while observing fixed
Continuous behavior can sometimes be described in terms of discrete
actions and resulting states. We can make simple topological maps
by defining distinctive states and the actions linking them.
Very general environments can be described by a fine-grained grid,
representing the probabilities that each cell is occupied. (Laser
first, then sonar.)
SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping)
There is an elegant interaction between the mapping and localization
The overall structure of the environment can be described in a more
concise and useful way using a topological map. Describe places, paths,
regions, boundaries, etc.
Society will be deeply affected if intelligent robots become a reality.
What kinds of implications should we consider?
there's no difference
between theory and practice.
But in practice,
The course is built around a series of five demanding assignments due
approximately every three weeks throughout the semester. The first
three are done in teams of three, each with its own robot (the Sony
Aibo!). The last two are individual assignments, using a recorded
sensor trace to build a map.
Each assignment asks your team to achieve an ever more sophisticated
level of behavior from your robot. Many of these assignments build on
each other. It's a pretty good approximation to think of the lectures
as driven by the needs of the assignments.
An important goal of the course is for you to learn how to work
successfully with your team, solving academic/technical,
scheduling/coordination, and social/interpersonal problems as they
arise so that your team is successful.
Demonstrate that you can read the sensors
and control the motor primitives on your Aibo.
- Get the camera image, to show what the Aibo is looking at.
- Run a color-blob-tracker to track the location of a colored ball
in the visual field.
- Turn the head to face the ball.
- Walk toward the ball until the colored blob fills more than half the visual field.
- Invoke a pre-packaged kicking routine to kick the ball.
(Don't worry where the ball goes. Yet.)
Learn to shoot penalty kicks
Starting with the ball in the distance, walk up and kick it.
- Approach the ball starting from several body-lengths away.
- Modify the step-length while approaching the ball, to
arrive with the legs in the right phase for the kick.
- Make a smooth transition from the high-level walk to
setting weight on the stance leg and using the swing leg
to kick the ball.
- On walking up to the ball, visually determine its location
relative to the stance foot.
- Set the lateral position of the swing leg, relative to the
center of the ball.
- Raise the head along with the kick, to observe the ball's trajectory.
- Learn a function that relates ball-position, leg lateral position, and
ball trajectory, so you can use it to aim.
- Practice, practice, practice!
Blocking penalty kicks
Use a Kalman filter to track the position of a ball rolling quickly
toward the robot.
- Track a colored ball as it rolls toward the Aibo.
- Predict which side it will pass the robot, how closely, and when.
- If it will miss the goal, turn the head to follow it
as it goes by, but keep paws down.
- If the ball might enter the goal, lunge or reach out a paw to block it
or knock it aside.
- Extra credit for stopping the ball and kicking it back.
Build an occupancy grid metrical map
Using a sensorimotor trace from a robot with a laser range-finder,
including accurate localization of the robot, build a map of the
robot lab and the surrounding corridor. (Individual project.)
Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM)
Solve the above problem, but without the accurate localization of the
robot. You are given the significantly less accurate odometry
readings, and must use the sensor observations to correct them.
Term Projects (Grad Students only)
In addition to the robotics assignments, grad students in CS 393R will
write a research proposal. The assignment does not require you to
carry out the research project, but to design it well enough to
convince a reader that the project is worthwhile, and that it can be
carried out as you describe.
The proposal will have four major sections.
- Problem: What is the problem you would like to solve?
What is the general approach you plan to take?
What audience is interested in the solution to this problem?
- Background: What work has already been done on this problem?
What alternative approaches have already been tried?
Why has the problem not already been solved?
- Methods: What is your special approach, that will help you solve this problem
where others have failed previously? What tools exist that will help you solve it?
What intermediate results will there be, on the way to the final solution?
How will you evaluate your intermediate and final results?
- Research Plan: Provide a plan for carrying out your research project,
including estimates of how long each stage will take, how you will respond to the
results of intermediate evaluations, and when the project will be completed.
List the conferences where you would submit papers on your results.
There will be four deadlines for submitting drafts of your proposal, one after the
completion of each section. Almost always, in each draft you will revise the previous
sections in light of further work and thought. You will get feedback on the earlier
drafts, but only the final draft will be graded.
- The first three assignments will be graded by teams, with all members of
each team receiving the same credit. The last two are individual assignments.
- Undergraduates (CS 344R): (12%, 12%, 12%, 12%, 12%).
- Graduates (CS 393R): (8%, 8%, 8%, 8%, 8%).
- Graduate students will have a term project: 20%
- Individuals receive their own exam grades.
- Undergraduates (CS 344R): Midterm 1 (15%) and Midterm 2 (15%) exams.
- Graduates (CS 393R): Midterm 1 (15%) and Midterm 2 (15%) exams.
- There will also be credit for Class Participation (10%).
Readings and Textbook
Research papers in robotics will be handed out and distributed online
for you to read. Copies of the slides will be made available, ideally
before class each day.
The required reference text is:
This will be used as a reference, rather than as a textbook, but we will
use quite a few methods from it, and it is a valuable addition to your
Since so much of the class comes from the lectures and discussion in
class, attendance is required. I will take attendance at the
beginning of the class period each day. (This also helps me learn
your names.) Your attendance will be counted as part of the Class
The Computer Science Department has a Code of Conduct that describes
the obligations of faculty and students. Read it at