Robot Student -Archive

The term also consisted of practical sessions looking at how computers work and simple feedback of computer and robotic systems.  We had to build and understand logic gates, but the most interesting experiment was the insect robot.  We had to program a robot to do basically what we wanted it to do in terms of movement and reaction to the environment around it.  As it was our first term, the demonstrators did not really want to let us loose on all the settings of the insect.  We used a program called Pspice to first simulate the settings we had put into the chip before plugging the chip into the robot.  The chip is programmed in delphi but it is then put through another program that changes the code to assembly language, a sort of interpreter.
My timetable is fairly busy as I am in everyday, with at least three lectures. Thursdays are the busiest where I am in from 9am to 4pm.  These will all be back to back lectures with an hours break in between, so you have to be fairly dedicated if you wish to do the course.
Every Monday we have a practical lab where you put all you have learnt that week to practice.  The lab could be anything from writing a program from the programming module to dealing with logic gates.  There are post graduates in the room to ask questions to but you should be able to do the lab as it would be specific to what you would have been taught the week before.  All would be specific to what you would have been taught the week before.  All the labs add up to about 15% of your final grade.  You need 40% to pass the first year so doing well in these could mean you can kind of lay back in the exam.
In the first year of Computer Science and Cybernetics you have six compulsory modules.  Four are mainly concerned with the computer science part and the other two are cybernetics related.  The computer sciences one’s comprise of a maths module, computer and internet technologies module, software engineering module and a programming module.  The cybernetics ones are electronic circuits and cybernetics itself.
Talking about the modules individually, some are fairly straight forward but others need hours of work for you to just grasp the concept.  I would say electronic circuits and cybernetics are the most challenging modules.  They mainly deal with physics and biology.  The maths module can be tricky if you did not do A Level maths as most concepts come from the ideas and basics of A Level maths.  The university changes their programming language every couple of years.  My year is the first to start off learning in C and C++ in the first year.  They do not teach the language specifically but they teach you about different languages and how you can adapt to different programming languages, so if you past experience in C programming you do have an upper hand but later on during the course we are introduced to other programming languages such as Delphi.  Out of all the modules, software engineering and computer and internet technologies are the most straight forward.  They teach more or less what we laready know about the internet, internet connections and the many acronyms and computer jargon.
There is one big software engineering project in the first year where you have to make a board game.  This is the biggest piece of coursework you would have to do in the first year.  There are also some other small ones for the other modules, but there are different bigger ones each year.
This being the first term, all the lectures keep telling us how much harder the course gets.  But i must say for the first term you would want to learn everything first time round because unlike being in school, lecturers are there for the hour of the lecture and they have to go to their next one so doing your own work and revision is a must.
Overall the term was quite laid back and not too much was piled on us although next term will be a lot more harder and a lot more busier.

Summer term was fairly quiet. We were all too busy either revising or doing exams. There
were only revision lectures and these were only for the first two weeks of term,the rest
was up to us which is a lot harder than it sounds. My exams went on for about three weeks.
This is probably the toughest three weeks i’ve had all year !I have to admit that there is a big jump
from A levels exams to University ones. The content of your answer is completely different.
For the rest of the term we had a few wiring courses, that we had to take for the insect robot
we will make in the latter part of the course in the second year.
Below are a few pictures of the vera board that i had to solder and make a binary counter
which simply had L.E.Ds that were the binary equivalent of numbers that were chosen by
a switch.

robot courses

This term I have 8 modules to do. Neural computation, control and measurement, signals, further computer systems, databases, GUI and web design,digital circuit design, engineering applications and algorithms.

All these modules are extremely demanding and I am not over exaggerating. This term we had 6 modules throughout. Each of these modules has its own course work and depending on whether the module is 10 or 20 credits, it can run for one term or two respectively. The timetable is slightly less hectic as compared to the first year, but this is only to accommodate for the amount of time you spend out of lectures. By saying this you will probably be in the library, in a lab doing practical work, meeting up with a lecturer or class mates or doing all three at the same time!

Neural computation is a tricky module. This module has a piece of course work where you have to program or simulate a neural network in C++. You are given hints and tips as to how the network should work but the rest is up to you. As you can imagine trying to teach your own program to work is not the easiest thing. You firstly have to make sense of your own program before it can learn.  The other parts of the module are all biology and understanding the brain and how neurons work within the brain and nervous system. GUI and web design is possibly my favourite module because it is the simplest one. For course work we had make a website for an animal charity. This meant we had to sort out our own clients and find out of they actually wanted a website, if not we just made a website for an animal charity anyway.

Digital circuit design is an extension from the computer and internet technologies module we did in the first year. It looks a lot at, programmable logic. From how the actual gate works to how it interacts with the drivers that work in the actual programming language. We also look at analogue and digital converters, how they work, how they are built and designed and of course their implementation. Signals is literally a module about the analysis of binary signals. it could be a signal going down a telephone line, we looked at how you calculate its bandwidth, how the signal is being generated and all the other implications involved in signal generation and transmission.

Control and measurement is a very hard module, by far the hardest module in the whole degree. I have to say even the lecturer warns you that 90% of the students will not understand it and by that he is right. Very complicated as it looks at how systems work and respond to inputs. This module has a horrible piece of coursework where you to model various systems using the techniques taught in first year engineering maths, cybernetics and it application. So referring to first year notes and understanding is key.

The last of the modules we did this term was engineering applications where we learnt about printed circuit boards, how to make them, how they work, about bad circuit practice and much more (there is also an exam at the end of term). This is all in preparation for the mobile insect robot we will be building next term.

As you can see with all the coursework and exam at the end its all a lot to take in But I have to admit, you do feel a sense of accomplishment after all the work is done. Unfortunately I have no pictures this term. I have time to rest over Christmas and next term we start again.

Spring term 2008

This term has probably been the longest term I have had at university even though date wise, it was the shortest. We have had a lot to do this term, finishing off assignments from last term and of course being given new ones when you finish the old ones!

January was all about getting to grips with all you learnt from the term before. Once again the modules were building on the ones you learnt in the first year and looking closely and in more depth in each of the topics. Beginning of last term, we were given a website building assignment, where we had to make a website from scratch for a charity organisation. That was literally the specification we were given for the course work. We had to look for a client ourselves, liaise with them and agree on the design, development and launching of the website. We were a group of four and we evenly distributed the tasks. We all had to do a bit of development on the website and communicating with the client. We had about three months to do this. It seemed an easy task at first and we all thought it could be done in about two weeks! But were we wrong. The client kept changing their minds on the look, feel and purpose of the site, weekly deadlines were being missed due to our timetable and the client’s timetable, there was travelling and lectures to balance. We probably made about five different fully functioning websites before the final one was launched. We were learning about web development in lectures as we went on during the term, so we had to try look professional but learn new things each day. Then more assignments from other modules started coming on and before we knew it we were 4 weeks behind schedule!

In the end we did roll out the website and the client was happy. Last report we had was that the site was attracting more than triple the number of hits they had in a single day, so it was a very effective site.

I must say however the highlight of this term was the building of the mobile robot. Each student doing cybernetics is given a project every year and we had to build a mobile robot that had three wheels and could learn or do clever things. The brief we were given was a datasheet of the programmable PIC we were using and printed circuit board. We then had to put the resistors, capacitors and rest of components on the board, which was the about 2×3 inches. So the components were very small and we had to use the right ones plus a magnifying glass to make sure they were in the correct place.

The time limit was about 6 weeks to build test and program the robot. I added sonar’s and a receiver to my robot. This made it follow objects or avoid them according to how I was going to program it. The programming was done in C and directly programmed to the PIC chip via an RS232 port. All this was determined by us, any help was limited as they expected you to learn and use what you know. We then had to demonstrate the robot at the end of the term.

This is more the cybernetics side; the computer science side of this term was on algorithms and databases. We had to learn about algorithms how they work and why we use them, we also had coursework on this where we had to write special sorting and finding algorithms. It might sound easy but it is far from it. I would say this was one of the hardest modules I have had to do yet. The database coursework was about implementing and rolling out of a working live database. I wrote the database in ORACLE. I would not say it fairly hard but it did have a few challenging tasks but overall it was a fairly good and interesting piece of course work. Probably the one I was most confident in doing.

All these projects require reports. These reports are large well documented reports of what happened when and where. The technical issues, analysis and evaluation. A lot of care has to be taken as the reports are about 40% of the overall grade in the entire assignment. So time management is absolutely crucial. You learn about time management and being behind schedule is one of the worst things ever as these assignments are worth a big chunk of your overall grade. Most pieces of coursework are worth 40% of the module and in this year, and the pass mark is 30%. So by getting 100% in your module you can walk in the exam knowing you have passed already! It sounds good when you see the figures and you think it is feasible, but well and truly you will have the pressure of the multiple assignments, glitches while these assignments are happening. In group assignments there are people that do not pull their weight and conflicts with each other in ideas. Reports that need to be written, practical exercises every Tuesday, which require at least a day or two of background reading just to understand what you are meant to do. Before you know it, it’s the end of term and you have not even started your revision for exams! So it is not that easy at all.

It has been an enjoyable but frustrating term. I would say by last two weeks’ attendance in lectures was less than forty percent. People were tired, worn out and just needed a break from sleepless nights due to multiple deadlines and tasks.

Summer blog 2008

The final term this year was far much stressful than the autumn term, I never thought I would say that about any other term. There was not much going on in the term apart from the exams and trying to sort out our final year projects.

When the term started we thought it would be much more relaxed as we only had to worry about exams. The only problem with that was, the exams were a very big problem. We had a few revision lectures which really put the exams in perspective. They really do test your knowledge from the whole year, then you have the lecturers who are slightly horrible and decide to mix content from both the first and second year.

Summer term is very short, so the library is full day and night. I was revising for about 6 weeks non stop to cover the content. I had quite a few sleepless nights as half the exams are maths based and the other half test your knowledge of electronics and biology. Once exams were over we really did feel we deserved a break as they took everything out of you.

In the latter part of the term we then had to pick our final year project. The process was quite long and tedious. You are given a booklet, depending on your course, which has a listing of about 300 hundred projects, you read through each one and obviously make a choice as to which project you would like to do. The Computer Science and Cybernetics course allows you to do projects from any of the two departments. The projects range from writing programs that interface with the brain, to an autonomous robot that can balance on a ball. So there is a wide range. However, you do have the choice of coming up with your own project which obviously has to be approved by the department and a board of lecturers.

I decided to come up with my own project. I will be making an apparatus that helps with post stroke rehabilitation. This will be in the form of an exoskeleton, which will be attached to the non-functioning limb. I am focusing on the upper limb, the arm. It is a mixture of biology, physics, electronics and computer programming, which is essentially what cybernetics, is. My project was approved and I am in the process of making initial designs for testing.

I did manage to pass my exams first time round, but weighing my options and looking at the amount of work and intensity of the year, I have down graded my course to the Computer Science and Cybernetics Bsc, not the Meng. The workload for the Meng is truly for someone who can with stand it and it is very time demanding. I believe there are only about 4 people doing Meng part of my course. Most people changed to a Bsc or dropped out.

This will be my final year and I am looking forward to the end of it.