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Press release

How students and robots come together

Roboter ET1

Weingarten - If the students can't come to the robots, then the robots will come to the students. That was the idea that led to employees of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Ravensburg-Weingarten University of Applied Sciences (RWU) developing the "ET1". The robot has now found a home with students at RWU. They use it to practice working on embedded systems.

Embedded systems are computer systems that take on complex control tasks and are optimized to perform them. Such computers coordinate hardware and software in a very small space. This makes them an indispensable part of many industrial plants and production processes, as well as of our everyday lives. Vehicles, coffee machines and cell phones use embedded systems to read sensors, process their input and react to it.

Fair conditions for all students

In RWU's Embedded Computing Lab, the 60 students in the master's courses Electrical Engineering and Embedded Systems as well as Mechatronics are learning to work with such systems. "With so many people, it's currently impossible to do the lab on site," says Markus Pfeil, professor of embedded systems at RWU. "We were faced with the question: how can students get this done at home?" The answer: the hardware has to come to the students. But that wasn't the end of it.

"All students should have the same conditions, regardless of whether they work with a modern laptop or an older model," says Markus Pfeil. "We had to make sure the hardware was robust and wouldn't cause problems." That's how the idea for the ET1 came about, a small, inexpensive robot that students can take home with them.

Mini robot with brain and senses

An ultrasonic sensor on the head and two line sensors on the belly give the robot its senses. Two wheels and a roller at the head make it mobile. Its brain is a "Raspberry Pi", a single-board computer. The robots were built by Joachim Feßler, laboratory engineer at RWU. In the end, 40 robots were built. 32 of them were picked up by the students and taken home.

The single-board computer on the robot is programmable via WLAN. "To do this, Raspberry Pi opens up a small server," explains Joachim Feßler. "The robot can then be reached via this mini Internet and anyone can work on it, theoretically even with a cell phone."

The students can thus solve complex tasks with little effort. And their list is long. It includes, among other things, controlling the robot's speed, measuring rooms and objects with the help of ultrasonic sensors, or recognizing and following a line on the road.

ET1 is to become open source

Much of the hardware was developed by RWU employees themselves. "In this way, we made a virtue out of necessity," says Joachim Feßler. It's a virtue that other RWU degree programs can also benefit from - but not only them. "The robots are now being field-tested by students and will then be improved again by us. Then we want to publish the hardware and software as open source. From the operating system to the circuit board, everything can be adapted to the respective needs," says Joachim Feßler. "You can really live it up there."

It took six months from the idea to series production. Now the robots will remain with the students until the end of the semester. Markus Pfeil is proud of the result. "The university staff do a lot in times of Corona to provide the students with the necessary material and to make studying under these conditions instructive and interesting. Most of it remains invisible. With the robots, this work becomes concrete."

Text: Michael Pfeiffer