Robotics and the European Project Semester

Robotics and the European Project Semester

Manuel Fernando Silva, Abel José Duarte, Paulo Duarte Ferreira, Pedro Barbosa Guedes
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-2309-7.ch011
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Robotics is a multidisciplinary subject that typically involves mechanics, electronics, and computer science concepts. For this reason, robotic projects are particularly well suited to the European Project Semester framework since they allow students with different backgrounds to contribute to the overall team objective in their specific knowledge areas. This chapter briefly presents illustrative examples of robotic projects that have been developed by teams of students participating in the European Project Semester at the School of Engineering of the Polytechnic Institute of Porto. It concludes by presenting and discussing student feedback, namely on the program and the projects developed.
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The EPS@ISEP is the EPS implementation at Instituto Superior the Engenharia do Porto (ISEP) – the School of Engineering of the Porto Polytechnic. This one-semester program welcomes engineering, business, and product design students since the academic year or 2010-2011 and, naturally, follows the European Project Semester concept: prepare future engineers to think and act globally, by adopting project-based learning and teamwork methodologies, fostering the development of complementary skills, and addressing ethics, sustainability and multiculturalism. Multidisciplinary collaborative teamwork (Duarte et al., 2015) as well as ethics and sustainability-driven design (Duarte et al., 2020) are pervasive concerns within EPS@ISEP projects. EPS creates a diverse environment within each team, where each member brings his/her own specific set of skills, knowledge, and culture. All projects developed within the EPS@ISEP are based on the application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge to design and invent solutions to improve the quality of life on Earth.

EPS@ISEP is a 30 European Credit Transfer System Units (ECTU) package structured in six modules: Project (20 ECTU), Energy & Sustainable Development (2 ECTU), Ethics & Deontology (2 ECTU), Marketing & Communication (2 ECTU), Project Management & Team Building (2 ECTU), Portuguese Culture & Language (2 ECTU). Apart from Portuguese, the remaining 2 ECTU are project support modules. They allow students to analyze essential aspects with impact in their solution's design and development, such as sustainability, marketing, ethics, and teamwork. The faculty involved in project coaching and module teaching are from seven departments of the School of Engineering (chemical, electrical, informatics, mechanics, management, mathematics, and physics).

Before the beginning of the semester, a set of project proposals regarding multidisciplinary problems affecting society are collected. The origin of proposals varies and includes industry, services, R&D institutions, or the school itself. The proposals tend to be multidisciplinary problems, i.e., require the integration of multiple technical and scientific competences. A proposal defines the problem/challenge to address, the minimal set of requirements, mostly mandatory directives and standards, and the maximum budget. Depending on the complexity of the projects, the average cost of an EPS@ISEP project in terms of materials is approximately 200 €. Each team is expected to choose, design, build, test, and deliver a prototype of the solution to the chosen problem together with several other deliverables, ranging from reports (interim and final), presentations (interim and final), a paper, poster, video, leaflet, user manual as well as the drawings, 3D model, code developed and demo of the prototype. A strong effort is made to ensure the team elements are from different countries and have a diversified technical background. This aims to fulfill all technical, scientific, and commercial demands of a successful prototype evolution while maximizing the cultural and knowledge exchanges among the students.

These projects share another ulterior goal in the context of engineering education: to help the students develop personal, teamwork and problem-solving skills while applying and enriching their technical-scientific knowledge. Gopakumar has coined this ability as public leadership, i.e., engineers who excel not only in technical problem solving but also have the understanding and skills to operate within a complex, fast-changing social, political, and cultural environment (Gopakumar, 2014).

The above-stated objectives can be fulfilled by developing biomimetic or artistic robots. Furthermore, the development of biomimetic robots has already been used for attracting K–12 students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Laut et al., 2015). This type of project directs teams towards the conceptualization, design, implementation, and operation stages of the capstone project/internship (Malheiro et al., 2015).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Student-centered Learning: A method of teaching where students are responsible for their own knowledge and skill acquisition, fostering lifelong learning and independent problem-solving.

European Project Semester: A one-semester learning framework based on project-based, multicultural, and multidisciplinary teamwork as well as ethics and sustainability driven practices.

Project-Based Learning: A learning method where students work together on a challenging problem, task, or product for several weeks to gain new knowledge and skills.

Multicultural and Multidisciplinary Teamwork: A work method where teams, composed of members from distinct cultural and knowledge backgrounds, address a problem, task or product spanning multiple disciplines, usually too complex for a single individual.

Engineering Education: An area of higher education dedicated to the training of engineering professionals.

Robotics: A multidisciplinary field, involving biology as well as computing, electrical and mechanical engineering, dedicated to the design and implementation of autonomous or supervised aerial, terrestrial, and aquatic platforms.

Collaborative Learning: A learning method where students work together on a problem, task, or product.

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