The University of Manchester Uses MapleSim in Robotics and Control Systems Courses

The University of Manchester, the largest single-site university in the UK, has a reputation for producing some of the world’s greatest engineering and mathematical minds. Twenty-five Nobel Prize winners have either worked or studied at the University.

The University of Manchester, the largest single-site university in the UK, has a reputation for producing some of the world's greatest engineering and mathematical minds. Twenty-five Nobel Prize winners have either worked or studied at the University.

Dr. Joaquin Carrasco, Professor of Control Systems at the University's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, has taught various Control Systems courses to Master's students in the Master of Science in Advanced Control and Systems Engineering program for the past six years. He has received overwhelmingly positive student feedback from using Maple T.A., the powerful online testing and assessment system from Maplesoft, in his Control Systems classes. He has also recently incorporated Maplesoft's MapleSim and the MapleSim CAD Toolbox into his Robotics courses. With the MapleSim CAD Toolbox, students can see how their mechanical CAD models behave as part of a larger, multidomain system. The students can easily apply MapleSim's advanced analysis tools to improve their designs. This toolbox makes it easy to import CAD models into MapleSim, automatically capturing the kinematic and dynamic properties of the model components. Using the MapleSim CAD Toolbox, Dr. Carrasco's students have modeled several complex devices including a 3D printer, a haptic robotic manipulator and a pick-and-place robot.
In the University's renowned Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronic Engineering program, students learn about the design and implementation of intelligent mechatronic systems. Recently, Dr. Carrasco began teaching Applied Mechanics for Industrial Robotics to second year students taking this program. Based on his previous experience with Maplesoft technology, he decided to enhance the Robotics classroom experience with the introduction of MapleSim, which offers students a rich engineering environment to develop high-fidelity models. According to Dr. Carrasco "3D visualization is a priority for my Robotics class and MapleSim is the best 3D visualization tool available."
Using MapleSim, students are able to visualize the concepts they are learning. The acausal multidomain modeling environment of MapleSim provides students with an intuitive and natural avenue for modeling. MapleSim uses symbolic and numeric computing techniques to yield accurate models that depict the behavior of the system. MapleSim's component libraries allow the students to easily drag and drop ready-made components into the workspace. One way Dr. Carrasco uses MapleSim in the classroom is to provide the students with a MapleSim robotic model and have the students find the equations of motion. MapleSim's easy-to-use interactive approach allows students to visualize the robot and manipulate the underlying mathematical equations.
Within MapleSim there is a learning module: The Forward Kinematics of Serial Manipulators. Introducing the Denavit-Hartenberg Convention, the focus of the module is to obtain the position and orientation of the end-effector of a robotic manipulator. Useful for calculating the forward and inverse kinematics, the D-H Convention describes the motions of a series of joints (revolute and prismatic) with respect to a reference frame. Dr. Carrasco noted, "The concept of D-H parameters is very difficult to explain to undergraduate students. Using MapleSim, the mathematics comes alive and the students are able to easily visualize the concept." Unlike other software packages, learning modules are free with the purchase of MapleSim.
Dr. Carrasco also uses the MapleSim Model Gallery in his Robotics class. The gallery contains many robotics examples demonstrating varying degrees of complexity. The gallery contains models from a Simple Inverse Kinematic Problem to a more advanced model of a KUKA™ Robot. This model is based on a robot from KUKA Robotics, one of the world's leading manufacturers of robotic systems. In the KUKA robot model from the MapleSim Model Gallery, the robot mimics the handwriting of any word the user selects. The example in the Model Gallery shows the robot writing the word Maple. Using the existing model, Dr. Carrasco asks the students to program the robot to write their own names. The students can use parameter sweeps to change the model, obtain the revised data and understand the immediate ramifications of any parameter change on the model.
Often, there is a disconnect between the practical applications taught in the classroom and the applications students encounter in the real-world. MapleSim bridges this gap, by allowing students to visualize and experiment with real-world examples, such as the KUKA robot model, that expand on the knowledge gained in the classroom. "MapleSim really helped me learn how to best teach robotics to my students. It helped me understand how to explain robotics in a real-world context," said Dr. Carrasco. "Unlike control design, where mathematical manipulation is sometimes difficult to visualize, in robotic design, mathematical manipulation changes the movement of the robot. MapleSim makes it easy for the students to visualize any changes. In my opinion, MapleSim is simply the best software package available to teach the principles of robotics."
The students in Dr. Carrasco's second year Robotics class have benefited so much from MapleSim that Dr. Carrasco plans to begin using MapleSim for third year robotics students in the coming term. This user case study is part three in a series on the use of Maplesoft products at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.
Part one, The University of Manchester Uses Maple T.A. to Assess Student Learning Across a Wide Range of Courses, can be found here.

Part two, Master's Engineering Students at the University of Manchester Prefer Maple T.A. to Traditional Assessment Methods, can be found here.
For further information about Maplesoft's vision for engineering education, please view the following white paper: Make Sense out of Engineering Modeling and Mathematics

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