Electromechanical Systems and Robotics I Syllabus #

ME 30, Electromechanical Systems and Robotics I, class number 80399

Office hours #

Kristen’s office hours are:

Brandon’s office hours are:

  • Roughly 9 AM to 5 PM in Nolop, unless he’s teaching class or in a meeting, or it’s a weekend

LA office hours are at Nolop at these times:

  • Sundays, 6-8 PM: Madeline and Leslie
  • Mondays 6:30-8:30 PM: Luisa & Olivia
  • Tuesdays 10:30-11:30 AM: Zosia
  • Tuesdays 1:30-2:30 PM: Roy
  • Wednesdays 6:00-8:00 PM: Reid
  • Wednesdays 8:00-9:00 PM: Roy

Course description #

A project-based hands-on electronics boot camp, focusing on the design and fabrication of printed circuit boards and interfacing with microcontrollers from the Raspberry Pi family.

Course goals #

The point of the course is to force students to gain experience with the practical challenges of building electrical hardware. Acting as a counterbalance to the largely theory-heavy curriculum of the modern university, the course makes students work in teams with their mostly inexperienced peers, where they argue, burn out chips, and struggle with lightly documented hardware. They face engineering failure and have to recover to succeed.

Key topics #

  • Circuit fundamentals: voltage, current, resistance, capacitance, power, series vs. parallel
  • Ethics in electronics and robotics
  • Professional responsibilities and decision-making
  • Multimeters
  • Prototyping
  • LEDs
  • Voltage regulation
  • PCB design
  • Transistors
  • H-bridge motor controllers
  • Motors
  • Microcontroller hardware
  • Microcontroller programming
  • Analog input/sensors
  • Microcontroller peripherals: PWM module, serial port module, I2C module
  • Frequency domain and digital filter basics
  • IoT basics
  • Raspberry Pi hardware
  • Raspberry Pi programming
  • Career trajectories and how to find a job

Co-teachers #

Brandon Stafford,

Kristen Wendell,

Course credit and time expectations #

ME 30 is a 4-SHU course with lab. The lab component will consist of a series of four independent projects. At Tufts, each SHU equates to 3 hours of student time per week. 4-SHU courses are expected to require an average of 12 student hours per week. Typically, these hours are divided into about 3 hours of class time and 9 hours of lab/homework/study time. For Fall 2022, you can expect to spend roughly 2.5 hours in class sessions, maybe 1.5 hours on studying/homework, and the remaining 8 hours on project work each week.

Learning electronics when life is really tough #

In ME 30 this semester, we hope to cultivate a supportive community of people who are helping each other take things one day at a time while also learning some electronics along the way. But, we know that some days, with the effects of the pandemic still lingering, life may still be hard this semester. In particular, you might find yourself needing to quarantine, grieve, care for a friend or family member, or care for yourself in this time with its many sources of anxiety and concern. As your instructors, we aim to be flexible when those situations arise, and to support you in taking care of yourselves and loved ones. We will work with you to amend due dates and find solutions that won’t negatively impact your learning of electronics or your grade in the course. Please feel free to reach out to us, even if just to remind us how hard it is to be a college student right now.

Course expenses #

Electronics kits #

Essentially, we’ll give you a bunch of stuff and ask for some payment in return (but can help those who need it). You’ll get to keep the “consumables” portion of the kit, and you’ll return the re-usable hardware at the end of the semester so next year’s students can use them. Please keep track of and take good care of your components and equipment.

This year the consumable kit cost is $43, payble via Venmo to @tuftsnolop. If the cost is a hardship, the department can help. Please read the section below about financial constraints.

Printed circuit board fabrication #

For this course, we will order PCBs from OSHPark in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Each of you will place two, or possibly 3, PCB orders over the course of the semester.

Each of the 2 or 3 orders will cost around $10. (The price is actually $5 per square inch. If you can make your boards smaller, they will be cheaper, but most of the boards end up being around 2 square inches.) Shipping is free.

If the PCB cost is a hardship, the department can help. Please read the section below about financial constraints.

Textbooks #

There are two recommended textbooks for the class. You are not required to buy either, but you are strongly encouraged to consider independent modes of learning as a supplement to the rest of the course. This is a fancy way of saying that when you get stuck on something, try reading a few pages from the books below about the topic. Then think some, work on some of the exercises, and talk to someone about them. Then read again, then more thinking. If you actually read and made sense of even 20% of these two books, you would know a LOT about electronics.

  1. Practical Electronics for Inventors, Fourth Edition, by Paul Scherz and Simon Monk, $22.49 in print, and also available as a free e-book from Tisch Library
  2. Making Things Move by Dustyn Roberts, $19.79 in print, and also available as a free e-book from Tisch Library

Financial constraints #

If, for whatever reason, you cannot afford to pay for the stuff needed for this class, please let one of the teachers or the ME department administrator Courtney Russo ( know, either in person or via email. In virtually all cases, the Mechanical Engineering Department will pay for whatever you can’t afford; if they can’t, we will. Under no circumstances should your education suffer because you don’t have the right tools or supplies.

Modes of instruction #

In-class sessions #

Here’s how class will work each Tuesday and Thursday.

  1. You’ll show up to class and bring your kit with you.
  2. For the first half of class, the instructors (Kristen and Brandon) will explain something about electronics.
  3. For the second half of class, we all build electronics. The LAs help you and ask you questions to extend your learning, as do Kristen and Brandon.

Asynchronous elements #

  • Video mini-lectures - Created and posted by the instructors. Several on a set of new topics each week.
  • Website notes - Added weekly to the course website to accompany the video mini-lectures.
  • Recommended readings - Optional sections of the recommended textbooks to supplement videos and website notes.
  • Canvas - We’ll use the ME 30 Canvas site to manage project submissions and grades.

Synchronous elements #

  • LA and instructor office hours – See schedule above.
  • Class - See description above.

Assignments and grading #

Grades will be based entirely on your project work. There will also be a few short quizzes, which will be ungraded.
Projects (5) - 100% of course grade Quizzes (3) - 0% of course grade

Projects (100%) #

Each project will be worth 7 points, and then scaled by the number of weeks allocated to complete the project. (So a project 4 weeks in duration is worth twice as much as a project 2 weeks in duration.) For each day (or fraction thereof) a project is late, you will lose 1 point (before scaling), so a project that is 1 week late is worth 0 points. To receive credit for a project, your project must also clearly make an attempt to meet each of the project requirements, which are published at the start of the project. For example, if a project requires fabrication of a PCB, and you don’t make one, you lose credit, roughly in proportion to the fraction of the requirements unsatisfied. For group projects with N people per group, you should do roughly 1/N of the work.

If you complete all the projects on time within the requirements, or at least 95% of that, you have earned an A for your project grade. If you hit around 85%, that’s a B. You can calculate the details if you want, but the main message is that you should complete all the projects, and you should do them on time.

We have a very wide spectrum of experience in this class. Note that the project requirements do not include any kind of performance target (like, “make a robot that can run faster than 18 mph”), but rather broad categorical requirements, like “Your circuit must run off batteries.” In this example, we do care whether you made a legitimate attempt to make the circuit run off batteries; we don’t care how well your circuit works, because that’s based largely on your level of experience relative how ambitious a project you tried to build. Our goal is to get you to try to build ambitious projects in a few broad categories, not cross some arbitrary threshold that would be easy for some of you and intensely difficult for others.

Over the course of the five projects you will:

  1. Build a prototype and PCB of a breadboard power supply that accepts power from a 12 V wall supply and emits 12 V, 5 V, and 3.3 V at the same time.
  2. Build a prototype and PCB of an H-bridge motor controller to make a motor spin both ways.
  3. Build an electromechanical game including microcontroller, moving mechanical element, and user input.
  4. Build a node including both sensor(s) and actuator(s) in an internet-connected, electronic system.
  5. Combine an internet-connected, electronic system with a moving mechanical element.

Quizzes (0%) #

There will be three short quizzes, one after each of the Projects 2, 3, and 4. Each quiz will feature open-response questions aimed at checking your understanding of the big ideas of each project.

Honesty #

We take honesty very seriously. Not only are we required to report violations of academic integrity, we see it as an important part of our responsibility as teachers. We are all fortunate to be at Tufts; there is no excuse for squandering that opportunity by representing someone else’s work as your own. If you’re unsure about the details, read the Tufts Academic Integrity Policy.

Sharing #

Tufts has asked us to include this statement: “It is against Tufts policy for anyone to share any content made available in this course including course syllabi, reading materials, problems sets, videos, handouts, and exams, with anyone outside of the course without the express permission of the instructor.” We hereby grant you, and everyone else in the world, express permission to share all materials from this course, including the course syllabus, reading materials, problem sets, videos, handouts, and exams, as widely as you like, under the CC-BY-SA Creative Commons License linked at the bottom of the page. In fact, we encourage you to do so.

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” –Thomas Jefferson

Mental health #

There may be times when personal stressors or emotional difficulties interfere with your academic performance or well-being. The Counseling and Mental Health Service (CMHS) provides confidential consultation, brief counseling, and urgent care at no cost for all Tufts undergraduates. Call 617-627-3360 if you need help.

Accommodations for students with disabilities #

Tufts is committed to providing equal access and support to all qualified students through reasonable accommodations so that each student may fully participate in the Tufts experience. If you have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact the StAAR Center (formerly Student Accessibility Services) at or 617-627-4539 to make an appointment with an accessibility representative to determine appropriate accommodations. Please be aware that accommodations cannot be enacted retroactively.

Coaching in academic skills at the StAAR Center #

In addition to its subject tutoring and writing support that you may use for other classes, the StAAR Center offers academic coaching to hone fundamental academic skills like time management and overcoming procrastination. These skills are important for success in this class, and if you are struggling with them, we encourage you to make an appointment for academic coaching by visiting the StAAR Center website.