Shai Revzen receives inaugural Robotics Institute Teaching Award for hands-on approach to education

Course encourages students to come up with their own robot designs.

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Shai Revzen. Photo: Laura Rudich, Michigan Engineering.

Prof. Shai Revzen was presented with the inaugural Robotics Institute Teaching Award for blazing a new pedagogical path in the teaching of robotics. Revzen is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and holds a courtesy appointment in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, a department within the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts.

“Shai’s dedication to developing experiential learning environments is shaping the future of education for robotics,” said Robotics Institute Director Jessy Grizzle, who is the Elmer G. Gilbert Distinguished University Professor as well as the Jerry W. and Carol L. Levin Professor of Engineering.

Since coming to Michigan in 2012, Revzen established an active learning class at the senior undergraduate level, Hands on Robotics; added key components to the graduate course, Robotics Systems Lab; and created a new graduate course, “Comparative Biomechanics Seminar.” In addition, Revzen mentors a large number of students from a variety of disciplines both in engineering and non-engineering fields, and he’s always willing to show off his own robots at events aimed at introducing young people to the field.

With the course Hands on Robotics, Revzen encourages students to come up with their own robot designs for the task set out for the robots. This open-ended approach can be challenging, as students are often driven to find the one best answer, and nothing like that exists in the course. In the process, students apply kinematics, control, and programming to build several robots throughout the course using a modular robot system. The course is taken by students from a variety of disciplines, even Architecture, reflecting the highly interdisciplinary nature of robotics.

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Students of EECS Professor Shai Revzen's EECS 498: Hands-On Robotics course compete in a robot arm competition in Design Lab 1 of the Duderstadt Center on North Campus in Ann Arbor, MI on December 5, 2012. Student teams were tasked with building a robot arm that can draw various forms and figures. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications and Marketing

“I don’t actually tell students what they’re supposed to build. All I give you are the tasks, what you need to do, and the tools,” says Revzen in this video describing the Hands on Robotics course.

Revzen brought his sense of the importance of design to the graduate level Robotics Systems Lab (ROB 550). After being asked to co-teach the course in its second year, he introduced elements of CAD and fundamental principles of mechanism design. He also redesigned the software requirements to facilitate the use of Python so that students were able to develop software more quickly.

Within the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), Revzen developed a graduate level “Seminar in Comparative Biomechanics” (an EEB #800 course). He brought this seminar to North Campus to introduce traditional engineering roboticists to the field of comparative biomechanics, while also exposing EEB students to engineering.

According to Grizzle, Revzen’s approach to teaching exploits the value of a university education, one that is focused on “individual mentoring, broad coordination across disciplines, and the ability to collaborate in physical facilities with engaged faculty and with other students who bring diverse perspectives and skills to the project at hand.”

Revzen directs the Biologically Inspired Robotics and Dynamical Systems (BIRDS) Lab. He and his students are working on discovering, modeling, and reproducing the strategies animals use when interacting with physical objects.