Robotics

Course No. 1312
Professor John Long, Ph.D.
Vassar College
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3.7 out of 5
31 Reviews
77% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 1312
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Course Overview

Robots. The mere word conjures up a bevy of mind-bending images pulled straight from popular science fiction tales. But robots aren’t just the stuff of entertainment. They’re real. They’re everywhere around you. And they’re transforming your life in ways you can’t imagine.

Ours is a world increasingly defined by the cutting-edge field of robotics. Today, we live among marvelous machines that can do things like:

  • provide support for soldiers in challenging terrain,
  • assist highly trained surgeons in performing medical procedures more precisely,
  • explore the harsh environments of space that astronauts can’t yet visit,
  • manufacture products with a speed unmatched by human hands.

In short, the future of human civilization depends on collaborative robotics: humans and machines working together. According to robotics expert and award-winning professor John Long of Vassar College, “Robots are what computers and self-propelled vehicles were to the 20th century: a technological revolution that impacts nearly every aspect of our lives, businesses, and security.”

Yet for all their seen (and unseen) prevalence, robotics remains mysterious to most of us. How exactly do robots work? What does it take to build a robot that can, for a period of time, perform tasks and make decisions with little human input? What are the most revolutionary robots at work today? How do we balance the technological benefits of robots with the potential risks they pose to pre-existing ways of life?

To answer these and other questions is to take an in-depth journey into an exciting world; a journey Professor Long and The Great Courses present in the 24 incredible lectures of Robotics. Using in-studio robot demonstrations, videos of other state-of-the-art robots, 3-D animations, and other amazing visual aids, Professor Long demystifies the world of robots and provides a comprehensive introduction to these intelligent machines. Whether you’re looking to grasp the hard science of how robots work or simply curious about the implications of robots for society, consider this course your official passport to an astonishing new world.

Intriguing Scientific Terrain

Professor Long’s course is an encyclopedic yet accessible introduction to one of the most important areas of modern science. From the concept of robotic autonomy to the inner workings of sensors to the intriguing possibilities of the future, Robotics covers every major topic in the field.

  • How robots work: To better appreciate robots, you have to know how they operate. You’ll watch Professor Long take robots apart to demonstrate how they work using actuators, controllers, and other key parts; discover how roboticists design robots using insights from animal and human behavior; and even learn DIY skills for building your own robot.
  • Where robots work: Many lectures focus on the wide range of environments and real-world scenarios where robots are already proving to be indispensable to how you live. You’ll explore robots in factories, homes, and hospitals; in the air, on land, and under the sea; on mission-critical battlefields and awe-inspiring voyages to distant planets.
  • Robots and our future: With so many robots around us, it seems like the future is already here. So what do the next decades have in store? Swarm robots, humanoid robots, robots that learn from each other, and even self-reproducing robots are just some of the many topics you’ll uncover as Professor Long explains the latest research in robotics.

As you proceed through this course, you’ll also get a look at some of the major ideas and ethical dilemmas involved in the world of robotics.

  • Trade-offs: Robots can’t do everything well. One universal lesson about robot bodies is that there are always trade-offs involved in designing them (such as building a robot for maneuverability instead of efficiency).
  • The Three Laws of Robotics: Isaac Asimov’s famous principles emphasize that robots may in no way injure humans. So how are these laws compromised (or circumvented) by military robots designed to target and eliminate human threats?
  • The uncanny valley: Developed in the 1970s, this hypothesis proposes that as robots become more human in appearance, our affinity for them grows. But once robots appear too human, they simply become disturbing.

Fascinating Robots of Today—and Tomorrow

Of course, the most enjoyable part of Robotics is the robots themselves.

You’ll get the opportunity to meet, learn about, and even witness in action an amazing roster of robots that are transforming our everyday lives. Robots that are simple and complex, large and small; robots that work on land, that hover in the air, that swim underwater; robots that work in our homes, our factories, our hospitals; robots that clean rooms and mow lawns and even perform surgery.

  • Roomba: This popular home robot cleans floors by using infrared sensors to detect walls and a homing beacon to return it to its charging station. The design trade-off with a robot like Roomba is that while it can easily transition from bare floors to carpet, it can’t move up and over stairs.
  • Wave Glider: This robotic “platform” has solved two major challenges aquatic environments present to robotics. Since Wave Glider’s wave-based power supply is endless, energy isn’t a problem. And because Wave Glider lies at the water’s surface, it can easily navigate using GPS.
  • Robonaut 2: One of the most exciting projects in orbital robotics is Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot consisting of a head, torso, and two independently functioning arms. Its goal is to safely assist astronauts working in the International Space Station.
  • Da Vinci: A variation on the classic robot arm, Da Vinci is a tele-operated robot helping to lead the charge in medical robotics. This highly advanced robotic surgical system moves robotic arms and tiny hand-like manipulators inside the human body, making minimally-invasive surgery even less invasive
  • EATR: The Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR) actually ingests organic matter for fuel. This wheeled ground robot’s external combustion engine uses biomass to generate electrical power—making it perfect for operating in remote areas for long periods of time.

Not only will these and other robots open your eyes to the intricate details of how robots are designed, built, and improved upon, they’ll illuminate how roboticists tackle everyday challenges and create technological advancements that are central to the way we live today – and the way we’ll live tomorrow.

Robots—Explained by a Brilliant Innovator

Transforming our studios into a veritable robotics laboratory, Professor Long lets you experience the trials and triumphs of robotics firsthand. Director and co-founder of Vassar’s Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, he’s researched, designed, and built robots with funding from major government agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Small Business Administration. He takes you behind the scenes to show you what worked, what didn’t, and why.

You’ll also witness how robots operate at the level of the wire and sensor; how they’re built, taken apart, and rebuilt for different uses; how they’re designed using the latest technological advancements; and more. Packed with robot demonstrations and 3-D animations, these visually stimulating lectures are an exciting exploration of robotics at every level.

Ultimately, it’s all in service of Professor Long’s overarching goal: to make you more informed and engaged with this increasingly important technology, which brings together the fields of engineering, computer science, neuroscience, and biology. Robotics shows you how we have been using robots to transform our world for decades—and how, in the decades to come, they will continue to revolutionize our lives.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Arrival of Robot Autonomy
    Plunge into the world of robots with this engaging introduction. When did we start thinking about robots? What three components are responsible for so many advances in robot design? Why is behavioral autonomy so essential to the development of modern robotics? x
  • 2
    Robot Bodies and Trade-Offs
    Why just watch robots when you can understand how they actually work? Deconstruct a Roomba to learn the five functional categories of parts all robots need. Then, explore a universal lesson about robotics: because robots can't do everything well, trade-offs (such as simplicity versus maneuverability) are always involved. x
  • 3
    Robot Actuators and Movement
    Investigate robot actuators: the motors and transmissions that underlie all robotic movement. You'll learn about the early use of springs as motors in automata; how electricity spins the magnets that make motors move; how movement defines what a robot is; and different types of motors (including DC and servo motors). x
  • 4
    Robot Sensors and Simple Communication
    Intelligent behavior in robots is rooted in the sensors that determine how much robots know about the world around them. Professor Long demonstrates how sensors work to communicate across the electromagnetic spectrum, including through infrared (like in Roombas) and visible light (for underwater robots that communicate using flashing blue lights). x
  • 5
    Robot Controllers and Programming
    What turns a remotely controlled machine into an autonomous robot? Self-control. So where does self-control in robots come from? Find out in this lecture on robot controllers: the computer-like part of robots that uses sensory information to decide how the robot should achieve its immediate and long-term goals. x
  • 6
    Human-Inspired Robot Planning
    In robotics, the most important problem mobile robots must solve is how to navigate, or move with purpose, in the world. Here, learn how simultaneous localization and mapping (using internal models, beacons, and dead reckoning navigation) is the key to a robot's autonomy in both structured and exploratory situations. x
  • 7
    Animal-Inspired Robot Behavior
    Consider an approach to creating robots that's inspired not by maps but by the simple sense-and-act behavior of animals. You'll learn the benefits of behavior-based robotic architecture (including quicker reactions and stronger sensors), and see how simple animals including ants have inspired roboticists to build fascinating inventions. x
  • 8
    Basic Skills for Making Robots
    So you want to make a robot. Where should you start? Learn how to work with tools like multimeters and solid-core wires; how to perform basic tasks including stripping wire and building simple circuits; and how to "hack" into existing robots to get them to perform tasks they weren't intended to do. x
  • 9
    Designing a New Robot
    Move from kits and hacks into the actual design and construction of more complex robots for research or business. As you explore the iterative decision-making process used by robotics engineers, you'll meet intriguing robots including Madeline, the first transphibian vehicle, and RayBot, an artificial fish used for surveillance. x
  • 10
    A Robot for Every Task?
    Wouldn't it be great to have a robot that took out your trash or put away your books? Explore how robots are designed to perform specific tasks, and the choices roboticists must consider in doing so-including the stability of the workplace and the minute steps of the task itself. x
  • 11
    Robot Arms in the Factory
    Each year, many tens of thousands of new robots are purchased to help us manufacture cars, medicines, and other everyday materials. And it all started with variations on the robotic arm. Here, examine early prototypes of pick-and-place robots; consider the trade-offs between range and control of motion; and ponder how far we've come with industrial robotics. x
  • 12
    Mobile Robots at Home
    Advancements in modern robotics have made robots useful, safe, reliable, easy to use, and affordable to have in our homes. So how exactly do different home robots-such as vacuum cleaners like Roomba, gutter cleaners like Looj, and lawn mowers like MowBot-adjust to the unique demands of their respective tasks? x
  • 13
    Hospital Robots and Neuroprosthetics
    Hospital robots have designs and functions meant to tackle the complexity of the modern medical workplace. First, discover how robots like HelpMate and Da Vinci work in patient wards, surgical theaters, and other settings. Then, delve into the burgeoning field of neuroprosthetics, which use the human nervous system for control of artificial limbs. x
  • 14
    Self-Driving Vehicles
    Lane changes, off-roading, irregular traffic patterns-how do robotic cars handle it all? Find out in this lecture on the trade-offs (especially between speed and safety) involved in creating self-driving vehicles. Peer into the future of how you're likely to get from place to place, perhaps without having to do a thing. x
  • 15
    Flying Robots: From Autopilots to Drones
    Take to the air for an eye-opening look at aerial robots, from the autopilot features in commercial airplanes to unmanned drones that can deliver packages. Topics include the role of gyroscopic sensors and recent technological advancements that are extending the functionality and power of flying robots like never before. x
  • 16
    Underwater Robots That Hover and Glide
    Some of the most exciting robots on the planet are found underwater. Here, learn how today's roboticists have developed unique solutions to creating autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), like Wave Glider, that have overcome critical challenges involving sensors, power supply, and design to do things like circumnavigate the globe or travel to great depths. x
  • 17
    Space Robots in Orbit and on Other Worlds
    Find out how space missions have pushed us to the limits of what autonomous robots can do. Central to this lecture are several fascinating robots, including Robonaut 2 (a humanoid robot working on the International Space Station) and the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, who are helping us better understand the complex geography of Mars. x
  • 18
    Why Military Robots Are Different
    Explore the tension between semi-autonomous military robots and our need to oversee their safety and control. In looking at military robots such as the Predator unmanned aerial system and the Phalanx weapons system, you'll learn about the unique trade-offs involved in the speed and accuracy of action, and the ability to distinguish friend from foe. x
  • 19
    Extreme Robots
    Walking and running robots, whether they move on four legs or two, offer some of the most extreme physical challenges in all of robotics. What are the advantages of legged robots that make them so attractive to roboticists? How do robots with legs balance themselves and move around in different environments? x
  • 20
    Swarm Robots
    A huge challenge in robotics is getting robots to work as a team to do things they can't do alone. Enter swarm robots: simple, similar mobile robots that combine to generate complex behaviors. Investigate this area of robotics that's barely in its infancy, but has vast potential for scientific research, military defense, and more. x
  • 21
    Living Robots?
    Robots are starting to perform the core features of life, to the point where it may be possible to have a robot that actually "lives." Professor Long introduces you to robots that "eat" by harvesting energy; robots that "grow" by building and improving themselves; and robots that "evolve" by designing themselves autonomously. x
  • 22
    Social Robots
    Enter the brave new world of social robotics, where robots are built specifically to communicate with humans and other autonomous physical agents. With the help of the robot Baxter, discover how simple signals like spoken words, expressions, and body language can create a dynamic user interface between human and robot. x
  • 23
    Humanoid Robots: Just like Us?
    Have we reached the point where robots are becoming just like-if not better than-human beings? Probe this fascinating question by examining recent developments in artificial intelligence, robot bipedalism and dexterity, the concept of the "uncanny valley," and three imitation games (including the classic Turing test) to determine where we stand with humanoid robots. x
  • 24
    The Futures of Robotics
    Because it's a multidisciplinary field, there isn't just one future for robotics, but instead multiple futures. What could some of them look like? Consider everything from companion robots that can coordinate our activities to surgical robots that can work autonomously inside our bodies using updates from a "robotic cloud system." x

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  • 272-page printed course guidebook
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  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

John Long

About Your Professor

John Long, Ph.D.
Vassar College
Dr. John Long is a Professor of Biology and a Professor of Cognitive Science on the John Guy Vassar Chair of Natural History at Vassar College. He also serves as the Director of Vassar’s Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, which he helped found in 2003. Professor Long received his Ph.D. in Zoology from Duke University. Internationally recognized for his work in biorobotics and evolutionary robotics, Professor...
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Reviews

Robotics is rated 3.6 out of 5 by 31.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from mind opening; very instructive and current. I bought this for my grand children months ago. Finally has a change to view the video course after I retired. It is worth the time.
Date published: 2017-06-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Realy pretty basic Did the course - DVD - April 2017. Found it pretty basic and will pass to a young friend who is a Freshman in high school - probably at the right level for him as an into course. Sort of an 'easy read' for me as I have more than a passing familiarity with engineering, received a Roomba as a gift in the 2003 (or 4), was long time pilot familiar with autopilots and flight control systems, have more than a passing familiarity with Predator UAS, and so on. I did enjoy it however (and bought on super sale!). But don't expect too much!
Date published: 2017-04-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Introduction to the ROBOT Ecosystem Comprehensive and Balanced collection of knowledge
Date published: 2017-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Robotics I am only 50 % through the course, but find it interesting.
Date published: 2016-09-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Complete Miss Scope too wide, details over emphasized, result is a complete miss. Sorry, guys!
Date published: 2016-07-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst of the worst Over the years, I've purchased many video courses from Great Courses. Some were great, some were not so great. The Robotics course by Professor John Long was the worst of the worst. I nearly lapsed into a boredom-induced coma every time I watched one of his lectures. Clearly, Professor Long needs some help. I would strongly recommend that the CEO of Great Courses introduce Professor Long to another faculty member named Stephen Ressler so he can get some much-needed advice on how to present an electrifying, professional lecture. Having Baxter the robot pick up cups is not exactly my idea of electrifying. Disassembling a vacuum cleaner doesn't cut it, either. Save your money. The Robotics course simply isn't worth it.
Date published: 2016-04-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst Great Courses I have seen. I have seen dozens of Great Courses DVD's and this is the only one I have not finished. It was dreadfully boring. The material was very elementary (about a 7th grade level). It was repetitive. He just kept using the same 2 or 3 robot examples over and over and over, often inappropriate to the topic. (i.e. using a Roomba to demonstrate a robot to go around and empty trash bins... "Just pretend this was a trash bin picking up robot...") Also, the heavy use of Roomba and the other robots felt and sounded like paid advertisements for those robots. He went on and on about their features... it was like watching an infomercial. Worst of all was the complete lack of technical depth. If you want to learn anything more than what a robot is (definition) you won't find it here. Of the 30 or so Great Courses I have purchased, this is by far the worst.
Date published: 2016-03-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An excellent layered approach to robotics I am surprised by the feedback from others who viewed the course. In my opinion this was an excellent foundation for layering the history or robotics from R&D to industrial / practical use in order to understand the potential of cloud based robotics and beyond. The professor did an outstanding job of taking on the perspective as a systems integrator with the emphasis on purposeful design. I personally believe that value was achieved in viewing all 24 lectures. It requires imagination, creativity, ingenuity, and a team of cross functional design, engineering, software, and many other experts working as an team. Advanced technology, like robotics, requires clear framing of requirements and defining the goals, purpose, definitions of success, validation in advance of tactics using iterative stages of development. I'd like to also say that evolvability is a much better framing principal for experiments of design and failing to succeed rather than references to evolution which seems outdated, polarizing and limiting unless put in the context of human / user centered design. Also, I would have preferred that the professor avoid mentioning the state of IP control over cloud-based robotics platforms...although true in some contexts: not in others.
Date published: 2016-02-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Robotics course- Think history, not science Thinking this was a science course, I was disappointed. This robotics course would be better positioned under the topic of History with a title of The History of Robotics and Overcoming Challenges. The current topic of Science and Mathematics with a subtopic of Engineering is horribly misleading. If just containing the word robot or sensor makes this a science course, I stand corrected. I may reference the book again, but I don't need Professor Long to read to me, so I won't be viewing the video again. The video medium was almost entirely used to convey what could be done in a lecture with his example robots and pictures of robots. The back cover of the book says this captivating video series explores how robots are designed. This was done at a high level, verbally mentioning trade-offs and stating obvious facts as when moving through different mediums; aerial robots need to be light and robots in space can take advantage of smaller, lighter motors. For the science, the content focused on robot activities like "pick and place" and avoided the nuts and bolts of mechanics, electronics and programming. Professor Long talks of compliant actuators having springs, but we don't get to see the transmission system and how the springs are incorporated. There were no gear ratios, linkages or motor considerations. As for electronics, he told us the battery life of AA and D cell batteries and we saw him plug a battery into an Arduino Uno and wire a resistor and photocell with a servo. That was it. There was no mathematics until suddenly we had an equation to determine how long an aerial drone would stay aloft, and that was it. Why was that important? There was no programming. In summary, I think the course is appropriate for people (teenager and older) who want to learn what robots are out there and what they're doing for us. [Disclaimer: I've only seen 18 of the 24 chapters but the last six chapters continue in the same format and introduce different types of robots.]
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most fun of any course we have taken. The professor was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that it was a joy to watch. His excitement was contagious and spilled over onto us. We did internet research and then bought our 50 year old son robots for Christmas.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK but could be better I have just completed this course. I agree with earlier reviewers that it is a good introductory course, but it stops short on details. The professor is engaging and covers a wide range of material (including how to solder). In this rapidly advancing field of technology I wonder if it will soon become dated and more of an historical study of robotics. Overall, if you are looking for a good introduction to the subject then this is a worthwhile purchase..
Date published: 2015-12-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Robotics? This is the only course of many I have purchased that I regret buying. Not worth the money, if it had been my first purchase I wouldn't have ever bought another.
Date published: 2015-12-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Introduction to a Prolific Field If you are looking for an introductory level course to the field of Robotics, Dr. John Long's course fits the bill. However, this is not an in-depth engineering course for someone looking to build C3PO in their garage. If you are new to the field, looking for the basics of how robots work, how they are used, and what is the history of robotics, this course is for you. Refreshingly, Dr. Long presents this course in his laboratory/workshop (or a set simulating one). This enables lots of demonstrations ("demos") of various aspects of robots, actual tear-downs of robots and step by step construction of simple robots. The engineering work is done at a very basic level (think "Popular Mechanics"), perhaps too simplistic for the engineer/hobbyist but a bit of a challenge for anyone who has never built any mechanical or electrical device. Dr. Long is a very good presenter. His style is such that one feels he is talking directly to you and not lecturing in front of a large audience. He speaks deliberately but with enough inflection and body language to hold one's interest. He is liberal in his use of demos and videos to illustrate his points. As someone who has done several live demos in my career, I thought he did a masterful job with the one demo that didn't exactly work as planned though he was still able to use it to make his point. Occasionally he interjects spontaneous humor, which aids his effectiveness. The course covers not only the basics of how robots work and the tradeoffs in their design but also the many application areas for robots that are in use today (more than you might think). As both a technology history buff and a futurist, I enjoyed the way he covered the history of robotics and projected into the future. I thought the lecture on "swarm" robots was particularly intriguing in terms of future applications. The production quality of the course is excellent. The laboratory set adds legitimacy and the videos and animations are numerous and instructive. The course guidebook is excellent. The lecture summaries are complete, answers are provided to the "Questions to Consider" (some of which are exercises}, and there are multiple web links for diving deeper into the technology. There is a timeline of the history of robotics, a needed glossary, and an annotated bibliography. One criticism I do have is that the algorithms, control programming, and AI/machine learning needed in robotics could be covered in greater depth. Maybe its just my perspective, but it is easier to envision how the various hardware of sensors, actuators, controllers, etc come together without presenting more technical depth than it is to conjure up the controlling algorithms and software without a few more examples and explanations. For the person whose interest is primarily in just understanding the basics of how robots work, how they are used, how robotics evolved to the current state of the art, and where the technology is headed, I recommend this course wholeheartedly. For the person that already understands the basics and is looking for more detail in terms of designing, engineering, and building robots, you may want to look for a more advanced course.
Date published: 2015-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Robotics Terms and Technology Dr John Long provides a fun and educational introduction to the world of Robotics. With numerous sidebars into the history of the subject to provide a solid foundation, Dr. Long provides many examples and experiments to reinforce the general concepts of design and limitations inherent in the field. Sure, we all want a robot to do all of our work for us, but fantasy and reality are still opposite sides of the robotic spectrum. Dr. Long describes where we are and where we want to be and explains the gaps and milestones achieved. There is a bit of redundancy as he reintroduces previous robot examples to explain a new concept, but it doesn't become tedious. Dr. Long's presentation skills are top-notch; he is very easy to follow. I highly recommend this course to anyone with an interest in the field, whether armchair curiosity or fledgling mad-scientist. There are some TOTALLY COOL robots out there. Well done Dr. Long.
Date published: 2015-09-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Primer John is fun and easy to spend time with throughout the series. He takes pains to make material relevant and engaging, using lots of visuals and employing well known examples from the lab and commercial world. To make sure no one is left behind, the lecture series starts at a very basic level. This is perfect for families and newbies. Anyone with a bit of experience will need to be patient for a good third of the course, but that seems a better approach than leaving young viewers confused and without basics (and even in the most basic lectures, John is careful to plant & grow important ideas: always consider tradeoffs; don't reinvent the wheel; measure twice, cut once; etc). On the downside, the camera angles aren't always great during demonstrations — sometimes the camera lingers on "nothing" or sits behind an obstacle, offering a partial view. The team also didn't seem to understand that video vs live means that if an experiment/demonstration goes wrong you can redo it (instead, John simply explains what should have happened). In all, a pleasant but not very in-depth course. If you have been focused on job or other matters lately and suddenly find you need a primer on robots, this is perfect. (One funny note: the intro music is head banging, Hulk-like and then the program cuts to John's slender, Brothers Quay body and Zen smile.)
Date published: 2015-08-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too basic for most people For a 24-lecture course in this price range I expected more sophisticated content. The course is so basic that I found myself going fast forward most of the time, and even skipping to the next lecture hoping to find more challenging content. I am returning this course for a refund. Unless this topic is completely new to you and you have no technical background whatsoever, I do not recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellence! I purchased this course as I am a robotics and technology enthusiast. The course covers every aspect of robotics from its history to the core components and programming. I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in modern technology and also future investors as robots will be the cellphones of tomorrow. Everyone will have at least one.
Date published: 2015-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great professor The professor is very entertaining and funny. He makes the concepts simple to understand and all the concrete examples he his presenting make the course more appealing. His ''how to'' is also very interesting for anybody who wants to build a robot. I liked very much the different applications of robotics and all the explanations behind.
Date published: 2015-06-03
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