In this paper, we examine the creation and benefits of a new teaching platform to introduce and reinforce the key concepts of robotic manipulators in an introductory-level robotics course. This system combines a vintage PUMA 260 six-degree-of-freedom robotic arm with modern control circuitry and a Matlab API. The API operates as a servo controller for the robot, thereby allowing students to apply their knowledge of inverse kinematics to a real manipulator arm. To further motivate the exploration of manipulators, we have developed an open-ended project where students engage in the art of three-dimensional light painting. To facilitate this activity, a tricolor LED has been affixed to the end-effector of the robot. With a digital SLR camera, we take a long-exposure photograph as the robot is driven through a trajectory, effectively painting a picture with the end effector. We have also developed a method to quickly assemble pseudo-long-exposure photographs and videos using an inexpensive video camera. We believe this novel setup and project are an effective way to engage and motivate students to learn the underlying math and dynamics of robotic manipulators.

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