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  1. Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (MRE) is a growing engineering discipline focused on the creation of smart and autonomous systems and processes in an integrated and interdisciplinary fashion towards improving the quality of human lives. Despite the growing need for MRE professionals and increasing numbers of undergraduate and graduate degree programs, this field does not yet enjoy recognition as a distinct and identifiable discipline. A distinct and identifiable engineering discipline must address four questions: 1) What is the body of knowledge that practitioners must master? 2) What skills must practitioners demonstrate? 3) What are the ways of thinking that permeate the discipline? 4) How do practitioners define and distinguish the discipline? Within the MRE community, there is disagreement over how these questions are addressed, and hence, whether and how to define a unified “mechatronics and robotics engineering” discipline or to differentiate “mechatronics engineering” from “robotics engineering”. Four groups of stakeholders were identified: prospective students, current students, educators, and industry professionals. An online survey with common sections on definitions of “mechatronics engineering” and “robotics engineering” and stakeholder-specific questions about differentiators was distributed to stakeholders via email invitation. Quantitative data analysis was used to code and categorize responses. Preliminary data analysis results formore »categories and codes are presented.« less
  2. In September 2019, the fourth and final workshop on the Future of Mechatronics and Robotics Education (FoMRE) was held at a Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI. This workshop was organized by faculty at several universities with financial support from industry partners and the National Science Foundation. The purpose of the workshops was to create a cohesive effort among mechatronics and robotics courses, minors and degree programs. Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (MRE) is an integration of mechanics, controls, electronics, and software, which provides a unique opportunity for engineering students to function on multidisciplinary teams. Due to its multidisciplinary nature, it attracts diverse and innovative students, and graduates better-prepared professional engineers. In this fast growing field, there is a great need to standardize educational material and make MRE education more widely available and easier to adopt. This can only be accomplished if the community comes together to speak with one clear voice about not only the benefits, but also the best ways to teach it. These efforts would also aid in establishing more of these degree programs and integrating minors or majors into existing computer science, mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering departments. The final workshop was attended by approximately 50 practitionersmore »from industry and academia. Participants identified many practical skills required for students to succeed in an MRE curriculum and as practicing engineers after graduation. These skills were then organized into the following categories: professional, independent learning, controller design, numerical simulation and analysis, electronics, software development, and system design. For example, professional skills include technical reports, presentations, and documentation. Independent learning includes reading data sheets, performing internet searches, doing a literature review, and having a maker mindset. Numerical simulation skills include understanding data, presenting data graphically, solving and simulating in software such as MATLAB, Simulink and Excel. Controller design involves selecting a controller, tuning a controller, designing to meet specifications, and understanding when the results are good enough. Electronics skills include selecting sensors, interfacing sensors, interfacing actuators, creating printed circuit boards, wiring on a breadboard, soldering, installing drivers, using integrated circuits, and using microcontrollers. Software development of embedded systems includes agile program design, state machines, analyzing and evaluating code results, commenting code, troubleshooting, debugging, AI and machine learning. Finally, system design includes prototyping, creating CAD models, design for manufacturing, breaking a system down into subsystems, integrating and interfacing subcomponents, having a multidisciplinary perspective, robustness, evaluating tradeoffs, testing, validation, and verification, failure, effect, and mode analysis. A survey was prepared and sent out to the participants from all four workshops as well as other robotics faculty, researchers and industry personnel in order to elicit a broader community response. Because one of the biggest challenges in mechatronics and robotics education is the absence of standardized curricula, textbooks, platforms, syllabi, assignments, and learning outcomes, this was a vital part of the process to achieve some level of consensus. This paper presents an introduction to MRE education, related work on existing programs, methods, results of the practical skills survey, and then draws conclusions based upon these results. It aims to create the foundation for standardizing the development of student skills in mechatronics and robotics curricula across institutions, disciplines, majors and minors. The survey was completed by 94 participants and it was clear that there is a consensus that the primary skills students should have upon completion of MRE courses or a program is a broader multidisciplinary systems-level perspective, an ability to problem solve, and an ability to design a system to meet specifications.« less
  3. The evolution of Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (MRE) has enabled numerous technological advancements since the early 20th century. Professionals in this field are reshaping the world by designing smart and autonomous systems aiming to improve human well-being. Recognizing the need for preparing highly-educated MRE professionals, many universities and colleges are adopting MRE as a distinct degree program. One of the cornerstones of MRE education is laboratory- and project-based learning to provide a hands-on and engaging experience for the students. To this end, numerous software and hardware platforms have been developed and utilized in MRE courses and laboratories. Commercial products can provide a rich hands-on experience for the students, but they can be cost-prohibitive. On the other hand, open-source platforms are low-cost alternatives to their commercial counterparts and are being increasingly used in industry. Developing open-source laboratory platforms will be a more feasible option for a wider range of institutions and would enable familiarizing the students with recent technological trends in industry and exposing them to the development details of a real-world system. However, adoption of open-source platforms in MRE courses can be lengthy and time consuming. Educators who wish to utilize such systems typically lack the expertise in all aspectsmore »of their implementation which can make them difficult to troubleshoot. Debugging open-source systems can also be challenging because most of the troubleshooting is done through forum discussions which appear to be very noisy and unfocused. The flip side of this chaotic nature of the open-source world is that there is a vast amount of information available, including tutorials, examples, and commentary and, with some focused searching, debugging and usage questions can often get answered. There is also a disconnect between the forum participants, typically computer scientists and hobbyists, and MRE educators and students. Finally, the available resources and documentation for utilizing open-source platforms in MRE education are insufficient and incomprehensive. Therefore, the main goal of this paper is to increase awareness and familiarity with the use of open-source software and hardware packages in MRE education and practice towards accelerating their adoption. To this end, open-source software packages such as Python, GNU Octave, OpenFOAM, Java, Modelica, Gazebo, SPICE, Scilab, and Gnuplot, which have the potential to be useful in the modeling and analysis of MRE systems are introduced. Furthermore, low-cost and powerful open-source hardware packages such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and BeagleBone which can be used as the main processing unit for data acquisition and control implementation in a wide range of MRE systems are reviewed and their limitations and potentials are investigated. This paper provides a valuable resource for MRE students and faculty who would like to utilize open-source hardware and software platforms in their education and research.« less
  4. Intelligent Autonomous Systems, including Intelligent Manufacturing & Automation and Industry 4.0, have immense potential to improve human health, safety, and welfare. Engineering these systems requires an interdisciplinary knowledge of mechanical, electrical, computer, software, and systems engineering throughout the design and development process. Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (MRE) is emerging as a discipline that can provide the broad inter-disciplinary technical and professional skill sets that are critical to fulfill the research and development needs for these advanced systems. Despite experiencing tremendous, dynamic growth, MRE lacks a settled-on and agreed-upon body-of-knowledge, leading to unmet needs for standardized curricula, courses, laboratory platforms, and accreditation criteria, resulting in missed career opportunities for individuals and missed economic opportunities for industry. There have been many educational efforts around MRE, including courses, minors, and degree programs, but they have not been well integrated or widely adopted, especially in USA. To enable MRE to coalesce as a distinct and identifiable engineering field, the authors conducted four workshops on the Future of Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (FoMRE) education at the bachelor’s degree level. The overall goal of the workshops was to improve the quality of undergraduate MRE education and to ease the adoption of teaching materials to prepare graduatesmore »with a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical hands-on skills. To realize this goal, the specific objectives were to generate enthusiasm and a sense of community among current and future MRE educators, promote diversity and inclusivity within the MRE community, identify thought leaders, and seek feedback from the community to serve as a foundation for future activities. The workshops were intended to benefit a wide range of participants including educators currently teaching or developing programs in MRE, PhD students seeking academic careers in MRE, and industry professionals desiring to shape the future workforce. Workshop activities included short presentations on sample MRE programs, breakout sessions on specific topics, and open discussion sessions. As a result of these workshops, the MRE educational community has been enlarged and engaged, with members actively contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning. This paper presents the workshops’ formats, outcomes, results of participant surveys, and their analyses. A major outcome was identifying concept, skill, and experience inventories organized around the dimensions of foundational/practical/applications and student preparation/MRE knowledgebase. Particular attention is given to the extent to which the workshops realized the project goals, including attendee demographics, changes in participant attitudes, and development of the MRE community. The paper concludes with a summary of lessons learned and a call for future activities to shape the field.« less
  5. It is well-known that women and minorities are underrepresented in STEM fields. This is true of mechatronics and robotics engineering (MRE), despite targeted K-12 activities, such as the FIRST Robotics Competition, that aim to increase diversity in engineering. This paper is a first step in assessing the current status of women and underrepresented minorities (URM) as well as investigating solutions to increase diversity and support inclusion of these groups specifically in MRE. The paper examines challenges and potential solutions identified in The 4th Future of Mechatronics and Robotics Education and in an online survey of the MRE college instructor community. Survey participants reported on courses, programs, clubs, and outreach events at the college level. The sample size is small, but the data provide initial findings to inform further study. Qualitative text analysis was used with the survey data. Five themes emerged, ordered from most frequent to least: the instructor’s perspective, social context of MRE, specific attributes of MRE, pre-college interventions, and in-college interventions. The most promising new ideas are in curriculum reform to incorporate social context into engineering education and in expanding STEM outreach by colleges to elementary and middle schools. Existing programs should also be strengthened, including robotics competitions,more »NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates, STEM summer camps, bridge programs, and affinity programs. Other important aspects include actively engaging parents, and working to be more inclusive of first-generation Americans and first-generation college students. The paper concludes with initial suggestions to increase diversity and inclusion in MRE and areas for further study.« less
  6. The field of Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (MRE) is emerging as a distinct academic discipline. Previously, courses in this field have been housed in departments of Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, or Computer Science, instead of a standalone department or curriculum. More recently, single, freestanding courses have increasingly grown into course sequences and concentrations, with entire baccalaureate and graduate degree programs now being offered. The field has been legitimized in recent years with the National Center for Education Statistics creating the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code 14.201 Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering. As of October 2019, ABET accredits a total of 9 B.S. programs in the field: 5 Mechatronics Engineering, 3 Robotics Engineering, 1 Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering, and none in Automation Engineering. Despite recent tremendous and dynamic growth, MRE lacks a dedicated professional organization and has no discipline-specific ABET criteria. As the field grows more important and widespread, it becomes increasingly relevant to formalize and standardize the curricula of these programs. This paper begins a conversation about the contents of a cohesive concept inventory for MRE. The impetus for this effort grew from a set of four industry and government sponsored workshops held around the country named the Futuremore »of Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (FoMRE). These workshops brought together multidisciplinary academic professionals and industry leaders in the field, and ran from September 2018 to September 2019. The study presented here focuses primarily on programs at the baccalaureate level, but informs discussion at the graduate level as well. A survey is prepared with lists of potential concept inventory items, and asks university faculty, students and practicing engineers to identify which concepts lie at the core of MRE. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the field, a wide range of basic concepts including physical quantities and units, circuit analysis, digital logic, electronics, programming, computer-aided design, solid and fluid mechanics, chemistry, dynamic systems and controls, and mathematics are considered. Questions ask participants to rank the priority or importance of potential core concepts from these categories and also provide opportunities for open-ended response. The results of this survey identify gaps between existing undergraduate curricula, student experience, and employer expectations, and continuing work will provide insight into the direction of a unifying curricular design for MRE education.« less
  7. Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (MRE) is one of the engineering disciplines that is experiencing tremendous, dynamic growth. MRE professionals are shaping the world by designing smart systems and processes that will improve human welfare. One’s ability to meaningfully contribute to this field requires her/him to acquire an interdisciplinary knowledge of mechanical, electrical, computer, software, and systems engineering to oversee the entire design and development process of emerging MRE systems. There have been many educational efforts around MRE, including courses, minors, and degree programs, but they have not been well integrated or widely adopted. Now is the time for MRE to coalesce as a distinct and identifiable engineering discipline. To this end, and with support from the National Science Foundation, the authors have planned three workshops, the first of which has concluded, on the future of MRE education at the bachelor’s degree and postgraduate levels. The objectives of these workshops are to generate enthusiasm and inculcate a sense of community among current and future MRE educators; promote diversity and inclusivity within the community; seek feedback from the community to serve as a foundation for future activities; and identify thought leaders for future community activities. The workshops will benefit a wide rangemore »of participants including educators currently teaching in MRE; PhD students seeking academic careers in MRE; and industry professionals desiring to shape the future MRE workforce. These workshops will significantly contribute to the quality of MRE education and increase adoption to prepare individuals with a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical hands-on learning. Workshop activities include short presentations on sample MRE programs; breakout sessions on topics such as mechatronic and robotics knowledgebase, project-based learning, advanced and open-source platforms, reducing barriers to adoption, accreditation, preparation to teach MRE, and community-building; and open discussion and feedback. In this paper, the outcomes of the first workshop, results of the qualitative and quantitative surveys collected from the participants, and their analyses are presented. Particular attention is paid to attendee demographics, changes in participant attitudes, and development of the MRE community.« less