Electromechanical Systems and Robotics I Syllabus #

ME 30, Electromechanical Systems and Robotics I, Section 01, class number 83723

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 Arduino and Raspberry Pi families.

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 • Multimeters • Prototyping • LEDs • Voltage regulation • PCB design • Transistors • H-bridge motor controllers • Motors • Arduino MKR hardware • Arduino 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 • Ethics in electronics and robotics • Professional responsibilities and decision-making; career trajectories

Co-teachers #

Brandon Stafford, Kristen Wendell,

Office hours #

Brandon’s office hours are:

Kristen’s office hours are:

  • Mon/Wed 3:30-5pm, via ME 30 Slack and Zoom (Zoom link posted on Canvas)

LA office hours are:

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 2020, you can expect to spend roughly 1 hour with pre-recorded lectures, 1.5 hours in synchronous class meeting, up to 4 hours on studying/homework, and up to 5.5 hours on projects/lab time each week. Of course, exact hours spent on study, homework, and projects will vary by student and week.

Learning electronics when life is really tough (and you might be in quarantine) #

We’re all facing challenges this year that we’ve never faced before. 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, or even most days, life will be really 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 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 (yours to keep except for the multimeter!) and ask for some payment in return (but can help those who need it). We’ve partnered with Arduino to develop a custom kit just for this course. You’ll pick up your kit or have it delivered to you, and you will be charged half its cost - $95 - as a course materials fee (financial assistance is available). The total cost of the kit is $190, but for Fall 2020, a generous gift to the Mechanical Engineering department has covered the other half. Please keep track of and take good care of your components and equipment.

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.

Textbooks #

There are two recommended textbooks for the class. You are not required to buy either, but given our socially distant operations this fall, you are encouraged to consider more independent modes of learning as a supplement to the rest of the course.

  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 know, either in Slack 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 #

During the time of COVID, we cannot all safely meet in the same room for one large class session. We will instead run the class remotely, with opportunities for both asynchronous/self-directed learning and synchronous/collaborative learning. We’ll combine the following course elements to give you multiple ways to engage with the course content, classmates, and instructor team.

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 deliverable submission, feedback, and grades.
  • Flipgrid - We’ll use the ME 30 Flipgrid group to gather and manage your weekly video responses. Flipgrid is a platform that makes it very easy for students and instructors to prompt, create, organize, and comment on brief videos.

Semi-synchronous elements #

  • ME 30 Slack workspace – Interactive discussion platform where you can post questions, frustrations, successes, ideas, at any time of the day or night. Instructors and LAs will be active participants. If you’re hoping for an immediate response, try posting to Slack during an instructor’s or LA’s office hours, when they’ll be on Slack in real time between visits from students.

Synchronous elements #

  • LA and instructor office hours – See schedule above. Conducted via Zoom and Slack.
  • Pods – Via Zoom during regularly scheduled class time. The class will be divided into four smaller cohorts, which we’ll call the East, West, North, and South pods, of roughly 16 students each. Each pod will meet on Zoom with one instructor (either Kristen or Brandon) and at least one LA, for 35 minutes during each regularly scheduled Tues/Thurs class session. Kristen and Brandon will rotate so that each pod interacts with each instructor. North and South pods will meet from 1:30 to 2:05pm ET, and East and West pods will from meet 2:10 to 2:45 ET. Attendance is highly encouraged. Student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction will be facilitated. Breakout rooms will be used, and Learning Assistants will be actively supporting student participation, inclusion, and understanding. Project troubleshooting and de-brief will occur during pod sessions.
    During the pod sessions, instructors will be remote, but we have reserved rooms on campus for those of you who would like to participate in the Zoom sessions while being physically present person with pod-mates. You’ll get an email with information about your pod assignment and room. Being physically present in these rooms is completely optional. Instructors will join only via Zoom. If you attend in person, you must wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart from each other, and wipe down your space before you leave.

A week in the life of ME 30, COVID edition #

Thursday 5:00pm – Instructors release new video mini-lectures, website notes, suggested readings, and crucial questions for the upcoming week. You’ll be answering these crucial questions in your weekly video response on Flipgrid (due Monday).
Friday 5:00pm – Instructors send weekly update email with reminders about what has been posted and what things are due in the upcoming week.
Monday 1:00pm – Deadline for you to log in to the ME 30 Flipgrid group and submit your 2-minute video response to the week’s crucial questions.
Tuesday class time – Instructors and LAs meet with student pods to discuss crucial questions, demonstrate techniques and concepts for the current project, and give feedback on project prototypes
Wednesday 11:59pm – Deadline for you to submit any project deliverables due that week.
Thursday class time – Instructors and LAs meet with student pods to follow up on video responses, run project tutorials, and de-brief project work submitted the night before.

Daily – Continued discussion on the ME30 Slack workspace.
Afternoons and evenings – Optional office hours with instructors and LAs.

Assignments and grading #

Grades will be based mostly on your project work, but also on brief weekly responses and a few short quizzes.
Projects (4) - 70% of course grade
Video Responses (12) - 20% of course grade
Quizzes (3) - 10% of course grade

Projects (70%) #

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 meet 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.

On the one hand, this sounds kind of tough. On the other hand, if you actually like building electronics, you will do fine. 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 four 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.

Video responses (20%) #

On Monday afternoons, you’ll be expected to post a short video to the ME 30 Flipgrid group. Each week the prompt for the video will be based on the week’s crucial questions. It will be posted to Flipgrid on Thursday by 5pm, alongside the release of the week’s video mini-lectures and website notes. As you view and study these weekly resources, consider the crucial questions and plan how you will explain your thinking about them. By Monday at 1pm, log in to Flipgrid and use your phone or webcam to record your video response. Each video response will be worth 1 point, and you’ll earn the point as long as you submit on time and make an authentic attempt to address the crucial questions. Your grade will not be based on accuracy but rather on effort. Over the course of the semester, 12 video responses will be assigned (i.e., every week except those with holidays). Your video response grade will thus be out of 12 total possible points.

Quizzes (10%) #

There will be three short quizzes, one after each of the Projects 2, 3, and 4. These quizzes will take place during pod sessions, so please contact us if you cannot participate in a pod session when a quiz is scheduled. Each quiz will feature open-response questions aimed at checking your understanding of the big ideas of each project. Your quiz work will be graded for accuracy and coherence. The average of your three quiz grades will count for 10% of your total course grade.

Honesty #

We take honesty very seriously. Not only are we required to report violations of academic integrity, we are glad to do so. 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.

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 email or call 617-627-4539 to make an appointment to talk with a Student Accessibility Services representative about appropriate accommodations.

Please be aware that accommodations cannot be enacted retroactively.