Software development is a key skill for all engineers and is therefore part of the first semester curriculum for mechanical engineering at Technische Universität Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt).

A new method in engineering studies at TU Darmstadt based on project-based learning is being introduced to give students the opportunity to gain experience in software development using MATLAB and controlling real world objects. In this project, a 6-axis articulated robot arm similar to the ones used in industrial applications is being used.

In addition to the motors used to drive the robot arm it is equipped with a color sensor. The students are thus encouraged to familiarize themselves with processing sensor data and incorporating it into their problem-solving approaches.

The students are given a newly developed virtual model of the robot also implemented in MATLAB, which enables them to develop and test their solutions even when there is no access to the physical robot.

To communicate with the robot the same methods for both the real and the virtual robot is provided to control the angles of the joints of the robot. As the students are only given Cartesian coordinates they have to convert these for the robot to use.

The task given to the students comprises the development of an algorithm to solve a specific problem using the robot, programming a graphical user interface and a documentation of the project’s results.

Students solve the given programming task in self-organized groups of four and undergo a team-based software project with focus on engineering from the beginning to the end. This allows them to reflect on personal competencies and to find their respective roles in a team at a very early stage of their studies. The project applies various aspects taught in the corresponding lecture and thereby emphasizes the practical use of the subject matter.

In the concluding presentation, the students are encouraged to reflect their work, summarize the results and show the special features of their implementation.

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