ME 449 Robotic Manipulation (Archive Fall 2018)

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Fall Quarter 2018


Course Summary

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


Linear algebra, first-order linear ODEs, freshman-level physics/mechanics, a bit of programming background.


  • 50% quizzes (quizzes will be open book, open notes, any cheat sheets you would like, but no electronics)
  • 20% assignments (lowest grade will be dropped)
  • 15% final project (due Wed Dec 12, during finals week)
  • 10% practice exercise for other students
  • 5% engagement: answering questions in class, participation in in-class exercises, and helping other students in class

Your lowest assignment grade will be dropped. This policy is meant to handle ALL eventualities and emergencies: travel, job interview, overloaded that week, computer crashed, could not submit on time (even by 30 seconds!), problem with submitting to Canvas, dog ate it, slept in, forgot, busy watching the big game, big party the night before, etc. Please don't ask for an extension or an exception; you've already been granted one! (But only one.)

Course Text and Software

This course uses the textbook Modern Robotics: Mechanics, Planning, and Control, Kevin M. Lynch and Frank C. Park, Cambridge University Press 2017.

Get the book, install and test the Modern Robotics code library, and install and test the V-REP simulator. You will program in Python, Mathematica, or MATLAB in this course.

Here is a linear algebra refresher appendix to accompany the book.

Video Lectures and the Flipped Classroom

This course will take advantage of video lectures and lecture comprehension quizzes on Coursera. (You can also see the video lectures, but not the lecture comprehension quizzes, outside Coursera at the video browser or using direct links to the videos on YouTube.)

You should sign up to audit the following courses on Coursera in advance of our study of them in class. Don't pay; you should start by choosing the 7-day free trial, but then click "audit the course." Auditing the course gives you access to everything except graded assignments and peer-reviewed projects.

This page collects together useful supplemental material to the Coursera courses.

The general flow of the class will be the following:

  • Before class, watch the videos, do the lecture comprehension quizzes associated with each video, do the associated reading, and participate in any "discussion prompts" on Coursera. You should plan to bring any questions or confusion to class. 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 appropriate sections of the book. 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.

Click here to enter any questions you have on the lectures or reading that you would like to discuss in class.

  • In class, I will briefly review the lecture comprehension quizzes and the material that was covered, get a little discussion going and take any questions, and then ask you to work on a practice exercise either individually or in small groups. If time remains, you may work on homework together. I will be available to help.
  • On days when a homework is turned in, I will leave time for any questions about it. On days before a quiz, I will spend as much time reviewing the material covered by the quiz as you would like.

Practice Exercises

This file contains sample exercises and their solutions, useful for studying for tests or practicing your understanding of the material.

Student-Created Exercises

Click here for student exercise assignments.

All students will be responsible for creating a practice exercise, consisting of the exercise and the solution. A good exercise should test an important concept in the context of a real robotics application (e.g., motion planning for a quadrotor, robot localization, computer vision, grasping, etc.), require the learner to understand and apply equations in the book or use the book's software, and require a bit of thought (i.e., not just "plug and chug" questions). For many exercises, a good figure or two is helpful. You could use a figure of a real robot and add your own annotations to it (e.g., frames or objects in its environment), or you could hand-draw something, or you could use V-REP or other software to help create the figure. You should not confine your question to an application discussed in the textbook. Make your exercise interesting and motivating! Exercises that require synthesizing two or more concepts or equations are more interesting and useful.

You should look at the practice exercise document and end-of-chapter exercises for inspiration, but obviously your exercises should not be copies.

You will create your exercise using LaTeX (pronounced "lay teck" or "lah teck"), the standard for scientific document preparation. Overleaf is a free online implementation of LaTeX. To get started on your exercise,

  1. Download this .zip file and uncompress it. There are five files: main.tex, prelims.tex, twist-wrench.pdf, table-lamp.PNG, and LampSolution.PNG.
  2. Create an account on Overleaf.
  3. Create a new (blank) project on Overleaf called "exercise."
  4. Upload the five files to this project. (You may get a warning that your default main.tex file is being overwritten; don't worry about it.)
  5. Click on main.tex to see your main LaTeX document.
  6. Press the "Recompile" button to see the pdf document that is compiled from the five files. You can download the pdf file, or all the "source" files, by clicking on "Menu" and choosing which to download. This is the .pdf file you should have created.

main.tex is the main file of the project, and the only one that you will edit, so you should understand what is going on in that file. prelims.tex tells LaTeX what packages to use and defines some macros, e.g., \twist creates \mathcal{V} and \wrench creates \mathcal{F}. The other three files are image files that get included in the document. You will create different image files depending on your exercise. For example, you can make a nice hand drawing and then scan it.

To learn more about typesetting in LaTeX, google is your friend! Try googling "latex math" or "latex math symbols," for example.

You will turn in the source for your exercise as a zip file, as well as the final pdf file.

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


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.

You will not receive credit if you just give an answer. Your solution must demonstrate how you got the answer. It must be easy to follow.

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 under any circumstances. See the policy on dropping the lowest assignment grade under "Grading" above. The cutoff time is 30 minutes before class 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" file in your solutions, for example).

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

  • Assignment 1, due 30 minutes before class on Canvas, Wed Oct 10. Exercises 2.1, 2.4, 2.9 for mechanisms (a) and (b) from Fig 2.18, 2.22, 2.29, and 3.1.
  • Assignment 2, due 30 minutes before class on Canvas, Wed Oct 17. Exercises 3.16, 3.17, 3.27, 3.30, 3.31, 3.49.
  • Assignment 3, due 30 minutes before class on Canvas, Wed Oct 24. Exercises 4.2, 4.5, 4.14, 5.7, and 5.11(a).
  • Assignment 4, due 30 minutes before class on Canvas, Wed Oct 31. Exercises 5.2, 5.25, 6.7, 6.8, and this programming project. You should submit a zip file containing your answers to the four exercises plus the directory structure described in the programming project.
  • Assignment 5, due 30 minutes before class on Canvas, Wed Nov 7. Book exercises 8.2 and 8.3, and practice exercise 8.1.
  • Assignment 6, due 30 minutes before class on Canvas, Wed Nov 14. Book exercise 8.14 (turn in your code), book exercise 8.15 (make a video of the motion using V-REP), and practice exercise 9.1(a), trajectory planning for the WAM robot. For each trajectory in 9.1(a), plot the (x,y,z) components of the trajectory and the three exponential coordinates of rotation of the trajectory (each taken from the transformation matrices) as a function of time. Make sure your plots are labeled so we can tell which curve is which.
  • CAPSTONE PROJECT. We will do milestone 2 first, then 1, 3, 4 to complete it.

Detailed Syllabus

The course calendar, including video lecture and reading assignments due before each class.

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