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World-first open online robotics courses for the masses

20th January 2015

Love robots? Enjoy maths? Then this online course DOES compute.

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is launching the world's first massive open online courses (MOOCs) on robotics, designed for undergraduate engineers but suitable for anyone with a strong interest in robotics.

MOOCs are free, open-access courses delivered online to an unlimited number of participants worldwide.

Very few robotics MOOCS have been offered by institutions globally in the past - and all were designed for postgraduate-level students undertaking science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related research.

QUT's two MOOCs are the first ever developed for people with undergraduate STEM knowledge, and they are the first robotics and vision MOOCs ever offered globally.

Watch short trailers for QUT's Introduction to Robotics and Robotic Vision MOOCs.

"While the MOOCs might attract some high school STEM stars and skilled armchair roboticists, I expect most of the students will be undergraduates, perhaps studying engineering or computer science at a university that doesn't itself have a strong robotics program," said Professor Peter Corke, the course creator, world-renowned roboticist with QUT's Science and Engineering Faculty and the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Robotic Vision.

"It could also be helpful for STEM professionals looking to expand their skill set - with big players like Google, Apple and Boeing pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into robotics and automation, it's an industry that'll be screaming for workers into the near future."

QUT's Introduction to Robotics MOOC is designed to develop the fundamental mathematics and algorithm skills that underpin robotics, including representation of pose and motion, kinematics, dynamics and control. As an optional practical assignment, students with a LEGO Mindstorm kit will be able to build a simple robot arm and write the control software for it.

The Robotic Vision MOOC takes that knowledge a step further, introducing students to the evolving field of computer vision, learning how images are formed, and fundamental algorithms to process images in a computer to extract information such as the colour, size, shape and position of objects in the world . As an optional practical assignment students can build an intelligent vision system that can recognise objects of different colours and shapes.

"If students did the first course and built the robot, they can connect the vision system to the robot to create a robot that can respond to objects in its environment," Professor Corke said.

Throughout the MOOCs students are quizzed to check their understanding and given weekly tests and programming assignments which count towards the final grade. Those who pass receive a certificate of completion.

Students in the MOOCs are supported by online discussion forums for sharing information and asking questions of both tutors and other students.
While free, the courses are not easy.

"They're certainly not going to be walk in the park - both MOOCs involve theory, mathematics and programming," Professor Corke said.

These courses mark QUT's first foray into MOOCs, in a project that was driven by Professors Corke's passion for robotics and his sizable YouTube following.

"A couple of years ago I broke my knee, just days before semester started," Professor Corke said.

"I had to record my lectures at home and a colleague showed them to the class. At the end of semester I put them up on YouTube.

"I was really surprised by the interest those lectures generated - more than 70,000 views, with one lecture alone viewed 32,000 times.

"That made me realise just how many people are genuinely interested in robotics and it got me thinking about how I might be able to deliver structured course content online.

"I've spent about 16 months working with QUT's eLearning Services team to develop the MOOCs.

"It's interesting to reflect on progress. Once upon a time we needed a lecture theatre and a lab full of hardware to teach robotics but in this digital age we don't always need that resource-intensive, bricks-and-mortar model to deliver a strong robotics course.

"These days we can teach mechatronics with LEGO kits at home rather than labs, and I find that a truly exciting prospect."

Introduction to Robotics opens on February 15 with a "Getting Started" period followed by six weeks of instructional material and participant activities. Robotic Vision opens on April 13 with a "Getting Started" period followed by six weeks of instructional material and participant activities.

Prospective students can enrol now through the QUT website.

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Media contact
Rose Trapnell, QUT Media team leader, +61 7 3138 2361, +61 407 585 901, rose.trapnell@qut.edu.au

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