CS493/790 (X) Advanced Topics in Robotics

Spring 2006


General Information Course Description Project Syllabus Grading Announcements

Instructor: Monica Nicolescu

E-mail: monica@cs.unr.edu
Office: SEM 239
Phone: (775) 784-1687
Office hours: Tuesday, Thursday: 11:00am-noon

Teaching/laboratory assistant: TBA

Phone: TBA
Office hours: TBA

Time and Place

Tuesday & Thursday: 9:30-10:45am; SEM 344 (SEM 246 - lab)

Recommended Textbooks

There is no required textbook for this course. The books below constitute a good source of additional background and in-depth readings on topics relevant to the course.


The Robotics Primer, 2001.
Author: Maja Mataric' (available in draft form at the beginning of the semester)
Robotic Explorations: An Introduction to Engineering Through Design, 2001.
Author: Fred G. Martin
Behavior-Based Robotics, 2001.
Author: Ron Arkin

Course description

This is an advanced level, seminar-style course, which will examine representative approaches to robot control, learning, coordination and cooperation between multiple robots and human-robot interaction. Students will learn about the development of the robotics field and the main directions of research in this area. Each week all the students will read all of the assigned readings. Each of the assigned readings will be presented by a student, and discussed and critiqued by all others.



CS 491/691 (X) - Robotics or CS 476/676 (Artificial Intelligence). Good programming skills are essential. If you have not taken any of these classes you should purchase "The Robotics Primer" book for background reading.


Each student will complete an individual research project, on a topic covered in class. Teams up to two students are possible, however the complexity of the selected topic must justify it.

Project topics: The projects should be an implementation of either: a single robot system (involving complex behavior and demonstrated on a physical robot) or a multi-robot system (involving cooperation/communication/coordination between robots and demonstrated in simulation).

Test-beds: The following simulation environments and physical robots will be available for the project:

  • The Player-Stage-Gazebo simulator (playerstage.sourceforge.net). Player is a general purpose language-indepedent network server for robot control. Stage is a Player-compatible high-fidelity indoor multi-robot simulation testbed. Gazebo is a Player-compatible high-fidelity 3D outdoor simulation testbed with dynamics. Using Player/Stage/Gazebo allows for direct porting to Player-compatible physical robots.
  • One Player-compatible ActivMedia Pioneer 3 DX robot. The robot is equipped with laser and sonar sensors, and a PTZ camera.
  • 16 LEGO robot kits. The robots are equipped with a Handy Board microcontroller that can be programmed using Interactive C. A reference on the Handy Board and Interactive C can be found here.

Project report: For each project students should prepare a final project report, which should include the following:

  • Title, author
  • Abstract
  • Introduction and motivation
  • Problem definition, including project goals, assumptions, constraints, and evaluation criteria
  • Details of proposed approach
  • Results and objective experimental evaluation and/or sound theoretical proof of the proposed approach
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Review of relevant literature and previous research and how it relates to the project
  • Discussion and conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix (relevant code or algorithms)

Timeline: The project development should adhere to the following timeline:

  • Project proposal - outlines the specific goals, implementation platform and the proposed approach - due on February 23 (see the syllabus).
  • Project status report - describes the current status of the project, what has been done, what is still to be done - due on April 6 (see the syllabus).
  • Project presentation (live demos are highly encouraged) - during the final exam.
  • Project report - due on May 9.



Following are the topics that will be discussed, listed in the approximate order in which they will be covered.
  • Introduction, development of the robotics field
  • Reactive systems
  • Hybrid systems
  • Behavior-based systems
  • Navigation and mapping
  • Learning: supervised learning, reinforcement learning, genetic/evolutionary approaches, imitation and learning from demonstration
  • Multi-agent control
  • Multi-robot control
  • Multi-robot learning
  • Emergent behavior
  • Biologically inspired robotics
  • Human-robot interaction

Class schedule

Paper reports: During each lecture we will discuss a numbers of papers on a specific research topic. Students must read the papers before class and submit, for each of the papers presented that day, a brief report for each paper. The reports should be submitted at the beginning of the class when they are discussed and must contain:

  • Student's name
  • Title and authors of the paper
  • A short paragraph summarizing the contributions of the paper
  • A critique of the paper that addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the paper

All reports should be typed - no hand-written reports will be accepted.

Paper presentations: During the semester, each student is required to present several papers to the rest of the class. Each presentation should take about 25-30 minutes and must be prepared as if presented in a formal conference (i.e., slides, projector). This presentation should assume that the audience has read the paper, and not spend more than about 15 minutes summarizing it. The rest of the presentation should be spent on discussing the paper, its strengths, weaknesses, any points needing clarification. The presentation will be followed by class discussions in which all students will express their point of view and general comments on the paper.

The table below presents the tentative schedule of assigned readings.

Date Topic Papers Presentations

Jan 24

Introduction Monica

Jan 26

Robot control architectures, history of robotics Monica

Jan 31

Reactive architectures "Intelligence Without Reason", Rodney A. Brooks, Proceedings of 12th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-91), Sydney, Australia, pages 569-595, August 1991. Arthur
"A Robust Layered Control System for a Mobile Robot", Rodney Brooks, MIT AI Lab Technical Report, Sept. 1986. Pablo

Feb 2

Lab Player/Stage Introduction: Getting Started  

Feb 7

Reactive architectures "Elephants Don't Play Chess", Rodney, A. Brooks, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Vol 6, pp. 3-15, 1990. Adam
"Universal Plans for Reactive Robots in Unpredictable Environments", Marcel Schoppers, Proceedings of the 10th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-87), Milan, Italy, pages 1039-1046, August 1987. Xavier

Feb 9

Lab Behavior-Based Control: Behavior Fusion  

Feb 14

Hybrid architectures "On Three-Layer Architectures", Eran Gat, Artificial Intelligence and Mobile Robotics, in D. Kortenkamp, R. P. Bonnasso and R. Murphy (eds.), AAAI Press, pages 195-210, 1998. Eric
"AuRA: Principles and Practice in Review", Ron Arkin and Tucker Balch, Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, 9(2-3), pages 175-189, April 1997. Wai-Yuen

Feb 16

Lab Behavior-Based Control: Behavior Fusion  

Feb 21

Behavior based systems "Integration of Representation Into Goal-Driven Behavior-Based Robots", Maja J Mataric´, IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation, 8(3), pages 304-312, June 1992. Amandeep
"Behavior Coordination Mechanisms: State-of-the-Art", Paolo Pirjanian, Technical Report IRIS-99-375, Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, School of Engineering, University of Southern California, October 1999. Chris

Feb 23

Project topic presentations.    

Feb 28

Behavior based systems

Navigation & mapping

"Motor Schema Based Navigation for a Mobile Robot: An Approach to Programming by Behavior", Ronald Arkin, Proceedings of the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA-87), Raleigh, NC, pages 264-271, March 31 - April 3, 1987. Jigar
"Sonar-Based Real-World Mapping and Navigation", Alberto Elfes, IEEE Journal of Robotics and Automation, Vol. 3, pages 249-265, 1987. Xavier

Mar 2

Lab Behavior Competition  

Mar 7

Reinforcement Learning "Reinforcement Learning: A Survey", Leslie Pack Kaelbling, Michael L. Littman, Andrew W. Moore, Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, Vol. 4, pages 237-285, 1996. Wai-Yuen
"Learning to Coordinate Behaviors", Pattie Maes and Rodney A. Brooks, Proceedings, 8th National Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-90), AAAI Press/MIT Press, pages 796-802, 1990. Arthur

Mar 9

Lab Behavior Competition  
Mar 14 Imitation learning "Is imitation learning the route to humanoid robots?", Stefan Schaal, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 3:233-242, 1999. Arthur
"Performance-derived behavior vocabularies: Data-driven acqusition of skills from motion", O. C. Jenkins and M. J. Mataric, International Journal of Humanoid Robotics, 1(2):237-288, Jun 2004. Adam
Mar 16 Lab Project work.  
Mar 21-23 Spring Break    
Mar 28 Learning from demonstration "Learning by watching", Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Masayuki Inaba, Hirochika Inoue, IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation, 1994. Wai Yuen
"Human action learning via Hidden Markov Model", Jie Yang, Yangsheng Xu, Chiou S. Chen, IEEE Transactions on Systems Man and Cybernetics, Vol 27, No. 1, pages 343-44, Jan 1997. Jigar
Mar 30 Lab Project work.  
Apr 4 Genetic algorithms

Multi-agent control

"Evolving 3D Morphology and Behavior by Competition", Karl Sims, Proceedings, Artificial Life IV, R. Brooks and P. Maes (eds.), MIT Press/Bradford Books, pages 28-39, 1994. Eric
"Flocks, Herds, and Schools: A Distributed Behavioral Model, in Computer Graphics", Reynolds, C. W, 21(4), SIGGRAPH '87 Conference Proceedings, pages 25-34, 1987, Amandeep
Apr 6 Lab Project work.  
Apr 11 Multi-robot control "Stigmergy, self-organization, and sorting in collective robotics", Owen Holland and Chris Melhuish, Artificial Life, 5(2), pages 173-202, 1999. Pablo
"Swarm-Made Architectures", J. L. Deneubourg, First European Conference on Artificial Life, 1991. Chris
Apr 13 Project status presentations.    
Apr 18 Multi robot control and learning "ALLIANCE: An Architecture for Fault Tolerant, Cooperative Control of Heterogeneous Mobile Robots", Lynne E. Parker, Proceedings of the 1994 IEEE/RSJ/GI International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS '94), September 1994: 776-783. Eric
"Reinforcement Learning in the Multi-Robot Domain", Maja Mataric', Autonomous Robots, Vol 4, pp 73-83, 1997. Jigar
Apr 20 Lab Project work.  
Apr 25 Biologically inspired robotics "Towards a Theory of Emergent Functionality", Luc Steels, From Animals to Animats 1 Amandeep
"Evolving grounded communication for robots", Luc Steels, Trends in Cognitive Science. 7(7), pp. 308-312, July 2003. Adam
Apr 27 Lab Project work.  
May 2 Biologically inspired robotics

Human robot interaction

"A Biological Perspective on Autonomous Agent Design", Randall Beer, Hillel Chiel, Leon Sterling, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Vol. 6, pages 169-186, 1990. Chris
"Function Meets Style: Insights from Emotion Theory Applied to HRI," Cynthia Breazeal, R. Murphy and E. Rogers (eds.), in IEEE SMC Transactions, Part C., 2004. Xavier
May 4 Lab Project work.  
May 9 Human-robot interaction "Roball, the rolling robot", Francois Michaud, Serge Caron, Autonomous Robots, 12(2): 211-222, 2002. Pablo
"MINERVA: A second generation mobile tour-guide robot", Sebatian Thrun, Maren Bennewitz, Wolfram Burgard, Armin B. Cremers, Frank Dellaert, Dieter Fox, Dirk Haehnel, Charles Rosenberg, Nicholas Roy, Jamieson Schulte, and Dirk Schulz, Proceedings, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 10-15 May 1999. Jigar
May 12: 7:30-9:30am Project final presentations and demonstrations. Location: SEM 246  

Assignments and grading

Evaluation for this class will be based on your paper presentations, participation in class discussions, summary reports for each of the papers and a final project. Regular class participation is required.

Grading policy (tentative, subject to change):

Paper reports: 20%
Participation in class discussions: 20%
Paper presentations: 20%
Final project: 40%

Late policy: No late submissions will be accepted.

Academic integrity: Students are encouraged to study together, however each student must individually prepare his/her solutions. Cheating or plagiarism are not permitted and will be sanctioned according with the UNR policy on Academic Standards. You should carefully read the section on Academic Dishonesty found in the UNR Student Handbook (copies of this section are on-line). Your continued enrollment in this course implies that you have read it, and that you subscribe to the principles stated therein.


Announcements regarding the assignments or other updates will be posted on the class web page and also sent by e-mail.

Created by: Monica NICOLESCU (e-mail:monica@cs.unr.edu)
Last update: 01/19/2006