BI2NR17-Natural and artificial robotics

Module Provider: School of Biological Sciences
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Pre-requisites: BI1MA17 Mathematics BI1PH17 Physics for Biomedical Engineering
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Prof William Harwin


Type of module:

Summary module description:

Students will study the mathematics or robotics and see this mathematics in action by building and programming simple robot linkages. The concept of a robot is built on the mathematics of forward and inverse kinematics by describing the geometry of the two link planar arm and relating the values of position, velocity and acceleration of the robotic arm. This mathematical description of the robotic linkage (arm/legs/hands)  is a necessary step to control the robotic endpoint, for example, to reach a target, hit a ball, walk, grasp a light bulb etc.  This mathematics is important in bioengineering areas such as prosthetics, haptics, exoskeletons and rehabilitation robotics. It is also widely used in other disciplines such as virtual reality and computer games.

Students will also develop skills in engineering design and will build and program a simple robot.


The course aims to introduce students to kinematics of serial chains, and the forces and accelerations associated with moving bodies. Actuators to apply torques will be considered from their performance characteristics and will include animal muscle, pneumatic, hydraulic and electrical machines. Students will also be introduced to the sensory and reflex mechanisms in both human and artificial linkages and will be able to extend these ideas to consider the needs of the higher level controller (the brain and/or concepts of supervisory control). There will be a case studies in biomechanics, assisitive technologies and robotics.

Assessable learning outcomes:

Students will have develop mathematic and analytic skills in the area of mechanics and see how these skills can be applied in two apparently dissimilar domains where in practice there is considerable similarity of operation. Students will also be able to consider both simplified mathematical simulations and compare these with standard packages for forward and inverse dynmaic problems in biomechanics.  Parallels will be drawn between biological linkages (arms/legs/fingers etc) and mechanical linkages.

Assessable outcomes

Mathematical basis of kinematics, dynamics and control systems in humans, animals and machines. The operation and modelling of actuators and sensors in animals and machines. Techniques available to implement low level and high level control mechanisms, in humans and machines.

Additional outcomes:

Familiarity with tools for analysis. The module will lead onto Biomechanics in the third year.

Outline content:

Elementary mechanism theory, actuators and power transmission mechanisms.

Free-form-fabrication methods, legged machines

Statics, including Newton-Euler backward recursive algorithm

Definition of accelerating co-ordinate frames

Closed form inverse dynamics

Introduction to position and force control of manipulators

Haptic controller architectures

Computer aided design and 3D printing.

Simple PID control

Application of serial linkage mathematics to a serial linkage designed by the students.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Lectures, laboratory practicals, and flipped classrooms.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Practicals classes and workshops 20
Supervised time in studio/workshop 10
Guided independent study 60
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 50
Report 40
Practical skills assessment 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

3 hours.

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Formative assessment methods:

A small competition demonstrating skills at constructing and programming a robot arm will be used to reinforce concepts in robotics such as the force and velocity jacobian, inverse kinematics, path planning etc.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:


    Reassessment arrangements:


    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 6 December 2018


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