SMS 491: Engineering literacy for the 21st century

Syllabus- Spring 2011


Meeting times: Tuesdays: 15:30-16:45

                          Thursday: 15:30-16:45

Most class time will be devoted to projects.

Instructor:  Emmanuel Boss,

Lab manager: James Loftin,

Office hours: by appointment

Course goal: Introduce undergraduate students to programming, sensors and robotics through hands-on projects.

Student responsibilities: attend classes, be on time, maintain an active blog (write at least once a week), provide feedback via blog and via discussions with instructor, read reading material, submit assignments.

Assignments: assignment consist of a series of project accomplished about every two weeks. Assignment will come with a rubric detailing what is expected of the students for a given grade. Extra credit will be awarded to projects that go above and beyond the rubric expectation.


Participation: 10%.

Assignments: 70%

Blog (weekly): 20%  (blog handout + rubric [PDF]). 

Reading:  Reading material will be provided as needed to feel in knowledge gaps needed for deeper understanding of concepts associated with projects and to expand our understanding of the larger issues associated with technologies discussed.

H1N1: In the event of disruption of normal classroom activities due to an H1N1 swine flu outbreak, the format for this course may be modified to enable completion of the course.  In that event, you will be provided an addendum to this syllabus that will supersede this version.

Syllabus, subject to change, (last updated 04/24/2011):




Assignment/ additional material


Jan 11

Introduction and course mechanics. [PDF]

Assignment: A blog entry needs to be entered every week by Friday.

Jan 13

Begin programming with Scratch.

1st Scratch project (due Thu, Jan 20st) [PDF]


Assignment: watch the whole of Randy Pausch's (last) seminar at Carnegie Mellon: Comment on it in your blog and come to next class ready to chat about it.



Jan 18


Assignment: watch the whole of Ken Robinson's talk about changing paradigm in education: Comment on it in your and come to next class ready to chat about it.

Jan 20

Presentations of 1st Scratch project.

2nd Scratch project (due Tue, Feb 1st) [PDF]


Jan 25


Assignment: watch John Delaney's TED talk @

Reading for Feb. 1st: the introduction and Ch.1 of Physical Computing.

Continued presentations of 1st Scratch project.

Jan 27


Feb 1


 Presentation of 2nd Scratch project.

Choose a sensor to build in sensor unit (so we can insure supplies are available).

Reading for Feb. 8th: Ch.2 of Physical Computing.

1st sensor project (due, at the latest, by Tue Feb. 15) [PDF]

Some background material on basic electronic:.

See also:

If you have never worked with circuits consider building circuits with the Elenco snap circuits we have in the lab.

Feb 3


Assignment: watch Bonnie Bassler's TED talk @


Feb 8


Feb 10

Assignment: watch Gallo's TED talks @



Feb 15


2nd sensor project (due, at the latest, by Feb. 24) [PDF]

Feb 17

Programmable Sensor

Assignment: watch Earle's TED talk @


Feb 22

 Programmable Sensor

Feb 24

Assignment: watch HOME, for example @

---------------February 25- March 13 spring break-------------


Mar 15


This year we will add in an addition to the series of challenges needed to do for graduation, 1. building sensors yourself that integrate into the Lego robot. 2. Possibility to build an AUV OR an ROV for a final project.  Other projects are possible with permission from instructor (see Vernier's link at bottom of page for inspiration).

Except for web watching assignments, all other assignments can be done at any time (prior to the end of the semester). You get checked off as you accomplish each assignment.


1st assignment: RCX tutorial. Go through the Mindstorms for schools using Robolab notebook. Make sure you go through the practices and end-of-book exercises. In particular make sure you know how to program the RCX to respond based on sensors output and that you know how to store and retrieve such output.



1. Pilot practice 1->7 (p.26-36).

2. Inventor exercises 1->4, 6-10 (p.53-66) - particularly logging data from sensors.



1. Pilot exercises 1->4 (p. 194-197)

2. Inventor exercises 1->4, 6-10 (p.198-205)



Assignment (week VIII): watch Bill Stone's TED talk about using robots in exploration @

Assignment (week IX):  TED talk about using robots in art @ and about legos and adults:


Assignment (week X):  Feynman on imagining physics @


Assignment (week XI):  Tyack on underwater sounds and mammals @


Assignment (week XII):  Norris and Kamen on inventions@


Assignment (week XIII):  Comic (yet intelligent) relief:

Emily Levine on science@ If you can't stand her, stop in the middle and see,

Assignment 2: Build a sensor that communicates with your robot. calibrate the sensor.

See: for suggestion for building temperature and light sensors that are compatible with RCX. Same rubric applies as the one for the sensors you build for week VII.

Assignment 3: Robot challenges: accomplish 3 out of 10

First Robot challenge - Pop Bot [PDF]   

2nd Robot challenge - Table Bot [PDF]

3rd Robot challenge - Robo line runner [PDF].

4th Robot challenge - Pipe Bot [PDF]

5th robot challenge - Firefly [PDF]

6th robot challenge - Mazing [PDF]

7th robot challenge - Laps runner [PDF]

8th robot challenge - Mower [PDF]

9th robot challenge - Slalom [PDF]

10th robot challenge - Line follower [PDF]

Rubric for challenges: A-all is accomplished, B-more than 75% is accomplished, C-50-75% is accomplished, D-25-50% is accomplished. E- some robot response. F-not done.

Assignment 4: robot project: a submersible AUV, program it to collect data profile at the pool come back to the surface and retrieve the data.

2. Build a submersible ROV. Control it to collect data along a bottom track and vertical profile at the pool. Bring back to the surface and retrieve the data.

3. Come up with your own project and make sure it is OK with the instructor.

Final blog: Answer on your final blog the following two questions (based on your experience this semester):

1: How could the class 'Engineering literacy for the 21st century' change for the better for future students?

2. What other skills/knowledge-base could you see being taught in a similar format?

3. Did you find the web talks to enhance or detract from your experience with the class?

Mar 17


Mar 22


Mar 24


Mar 29


Mar 31


Apr 5


Apr 7


Apr 12


Apr 14


Apr 19


Apr 21


Apr 26

Final robotics project presentations

Apr 28

Links to a class blog from a previous year:


Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers, Dan O'Sullivan and Tom Igoe 2004, Thomson Course Technology PTR; ISBN: 159200346X

Getting started in electronics, Forrest M. Mims III,



scratch tutorials:


Sensors that integrate into Lego robots:

Sensors for robots:

How to build a hydrophone:

Introduction to building sensors:

The home page of Forrest M Mims III,


Page with links relevant to RCX robotics [PDF]

A repository of NXT robots/projects, includes the programs:

Relevant courses on the WWW:

Computer programming 101 by Guy W. Lecky-Thompson:

Lecture on programming:

Designing animation and game with scratch teaching site (click on English to switch languages):

Physical computing at NYU:

ELEC 201. Introduction to Engineering design (also known as Lego lab) .,

Other useful resources on the WWW:

Resources for using Robolab with Lego robots:

Article on programming languages for Lego Mindstorms NXT:

A language to program visuals:

Lego project with additional sensors from Vernier:

Boss, 2011
This page was last edited on 04/24/2011