ME 449 Robotic Manipulation

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Fall Quarter 2017


Course Summary

Mechanics of robotic manipulation, computer representations and algorithms for manipulation planning, and applications to industrial automation, parts feeding, grasping, fixturing, and assembly.


  • 50% quizzes
  • 35% assignments (HWs, video comprehension, in-class assignments; low scores dropped)
  • 10% student lecture and learning materials
  • 5% engagement and providing helpful feedback to other students

Course Text and Software

All of these resources are available at the homepage for the book.

Video Lectures

Video supplements to the reading can be found at If you prefer to watch the videos as playlists in the youtube environment, you can go here instead. These links are also available from the book's homepage.

In general, I recommend that you first watch the videos to get a quick understanding of the material of the chapter, then follow up by reading. The videos are short and dense, so don't expect to get by only watching the videos. You will need to read the book, then do the exercises, to gain mastery of the material.

Student Lectures

Each student will work in a small team to deliver one lecture during the quarter. Your lecture should not be too similar to the video lectures already online. The main purposes of the student lectures are

  • To provide your fellow students another perspective, other than my own, on the material. Maybe your way of explaining it will be more intuitive than mine, at least for some people. Unlike my lectures, which cover a lot of ground quickly, your lecture should have at least one worked example and slow things down a bit. You don't have to cover all topics of the videos and reading that were due for that day. You can choose one or a subset of topics and slow down.
  • To generate new learning materials that others can benefit from. These could be posted to the book website (e.g., worked exercises, videos, etc.).
  • To have you take ownership of your learning. There is no better way to learn the material than to figure out how to teach it.

On a student lecture day, this is a general (but flexible) guideline:

  • 5 minutes for the video/reading comprehension "quiz."
  • 15 minutes lecture. How you do your lecture is up to you, but everyone in the lecture team should be involved. You could make a video and then play it in front of the class, and then take questions. You could write on the chalkboard. You could use props, or videos you find online, or animations you make. You could ask questions and involve the class. You should work through at least one example or exercise that you create (not one from the book) that makes some of the concepts concrete. An ideal lecture would be engaging and informative.
  • 5 minutes of constructive feedback from the class (what worked well, what could have been clearer, but always constructive).
  • 25 minutes of the class working in small groups on an assignment you give. Ideally the assignment would be interesting and challenging, and would elicit questions if students don't fully understand the material. Students do not necessarily have to be able to get a "right" answer in the timeframe of the class; the assignment should just help them to learn. The assignment cannot be taken from the book. The student lecturers and the instructors will circulate and help the small groups. Small groups of students will turn in their group work at the end of class.

After your lecture, your lecture team should provide me with:

  • [Whole team] A video of your lecture. You should arrange for a classmate to take a video of your lecture (e.g., with a cell phone propped up against books, so it doesn't move). Then post the lecture to YouTube and send me the link. You can keep the video private or you can make it public; up to you.
  • [Whole team] An electronic version of your in-class assignment with solution, suitable for posting to the website. A pdf file is probably the best format.
  • [Each member of the team] Each member of the team should confidentially email me a fair self-assessment of each individual's contribution to the lecture. You get 10 points to assign for each member of the team, so if your team has 3 students, you have 30 points to assign. Ideally your distribution would be 10/10/10. If one student did not contribute much, the distribution might be 12/12/6, or if one student did most of the work, it might be 16/7/7. In either of these cases, a brief explanation would be helpful. These are just to help me understand how the team functioned.
  • Anything else. This will likely be nothing in most cases, but maybe you found a useful website you'd like to share, or created some MATLAB code you'd like to share, etc.

I encourage you to meet with me during office hours if you have any questions or if you'd like to discuss your ideas for your lecture.

Approximate Syllabus and Reading

  • Chapter 2, Configuration Space (weeks 1-2)
  • Chapter 3, Rigid-Body Motions (weeks 2-3)
  • Chapter 4, Forward Kinematics (week 4); section 4.2 is optional
  • Chapter 5, Velocity Kinematics and Statics (week 5)
  • Chapter 6, Inverse Kinematics (week 6); focus on section 6.2
  • Chapter 8, Dynamics of Open Chains (weeks 6-7); skip sections 8.4, 8.8, and 8.9
  • Chapter 9, Trajectory Generation (week 8); focus on sections 9.1 and 9.4
  • Chapter 11, Robot Control (week 9); focus on sections 11.1 through 11.4
  • Chapter 13, Wheeled Mobile Robots (week 10); skip section 13.3

Detailed Syllabus (Under Construction)

Homeworks are due at the beginning of class every Wednesday, unless otherwise noted. You will watch the videos and do the reading in advance of class using the material, as noted in the syllabus below. A typical weekly schedule will consist of:

M: Help with homework.
W: Homework solutions, student lecture, and in-class assignment OR homework solutions and quiz preparation.
F: Student lecture and in-class assignment OR quiz.

Class 1 (W 9/20)

Welcome to the course and course website. Structure of the course (HW due Wed, student-generated lectures and learning materials, in-class assignments, feedback on student lectures, occasional Friday quizzes). Book, software, (lack of) D-H parameters, syllabus, V-REP simulator, office hours.

At home:

Videos: first 3 videos of Chapter 2, through Chapter 2.2
Reading: Chapters 2.1 and 2.2
Software: download github software with book, install V-REP and verify that you can use Scenes 1 and 2 (the UR5)
HW1, due before class W 9/27: Exercises 2.3, 2.9, 2.20, 2.29. Also, create your own example system with closed loops, something not in the book, and solve for the degrees of freedom using Grubler's formula. Make it something that exists or occurs in common experience, not necessarily a robot. Imagine using it to teach someone about Grubler's formula.

Class 2 (F 9/22)

Video/reading comprehension question
Bring your laptop, demo V-REP UR5 scenes
Sample student lecture and in-class assignment on chapters 2.1 and 2.2

At home:

Videos: 2 videos on Chapter 2.3
Reading: Chapter 2.3

Class 3 (M 9/25)

Video/reading comprehension question
Help with HW1

At home:

Videos: 2 videos, Chapter 2.4 and 2.5
Reading: Chapters 2.4 and 2.5
Turn in HW1

Class 4 (W 9/27)

Video/reading comprehension question
Solutions to HW1; student examples of Grubler's formula


Assignments are graded based on correctness, how well you organize your homework (it should be easy to understand your thinking and easy to find your responses), and how well you follow the submission instructions below. You will lose points if you don't follow these instructions.

If you ever think a problem is stated incorrectly, not enough information is given, or it is impossible to solve, don't panic! Simply make a reasonable assumption that will allow you to solve the problem (but clearly state what this assumption is), or indicate why it is not possible to solve the problem.

Instructions for uploading assignments to Canvas:

0. Upload on time! Late submissions are not accepted. The cutoff time is at the beginning of class on the day the assignment is due.

1. Only upload one zip file or rar file for each assignment;

2. In your zip file or rar file, include all source codes in their original form, such as .cpp, .m, .py, .nb.

3. If there is a demo, combine the screen shots into one SEPARATE pdf file, OR, show the results in one SEPARATE .txt file (DON'T show them in your source code file format, e.g. .nb file), and include it in the zip file (or rar file).

4. Always include output of your code running on the exercises, particularly in case the grader has problems running your code. Also, always create a script (for example, titled ex6-9 or something) that the grader can easily invoke for each exercise. Don't expect the grader to search through your code to find sample code to cut-and-paste. Make it as easy as possible for the grader (you can include a "README" in your solutions, for example).

5. Please name the upload file in the following format:

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