MEAM’s Mechatronics Class Sees Record Enrollment
The workbenches and shelves in the GM Lab are emptied of their usual array of wires, resistors and the bits and pieces of machinery that is its usual décor – but not for long. Soon each station will be covered in the mechanical, electronic and computing elements needed to build the machines of Penn Engineering’s “Design of Mechatronic Systems” class, which saw record enrollment (up from its usual 30 to 60 students) this semester.
Jonathan Fiene, Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM), was not expecting the over 100% increase in enrollment for his MEAM 410/510 class. But, due to the combination of the largest-ever Robotics and MEAM master’s classes, along with the popularity of the class with MEAM undergraduates, his room is filled to bursting. After the first day of class had students sitting on the floor between desks, fire codes forced them to move to a larger room.
“I was expecting a full house, but not quite this full,” said Fiene. “In recent years the MEAM department has placed a strong emphasis on getting students into the lab to experience engineering first-hand, and this has become a fundamental component of our practice-integrated curriculum. Looking at the surging demand for many of our programs and classes, it seems that this model resonates quite well with our students."
Mechatronics is the study of modern systems in which mechanical elements are fused with electronic components and often embedded computers. The Penn Engineering Mechatronics course is a hands-on, project based course that gives students an integrated introduction to the fundamental components within each of the three domains. Students explore mechanical elements (prototyping, materials, actuators and sensors, transmissions, and fundamental kinematics), electronics (basic circuits, filters, op amps, discrete logic, and interfacing with mechanical elements), and computing (interfacing with the analog world, microprocessor technology, basic control theory, and programming).
The course is built around a sequence of projects wherein students design and build increasingly complex systems, ranging from infrared tracking devices to wirelessly-connected mobile robots. At the culmination of each semester is a public demonstration where teams tackle larger problems, such as designing robots that can find one another in a maze, to this year's challenge of building autonomous robots to play three-on-three hockey, a task which many of this year's students are already drawing up plans.