Teaching Embedded Systems with a Robotics Theme using ROS on the Raspberry Pi

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Robotics Research Center

Publication Date


Publication Title

Proceedings of 2018 ASEE Northeast Section Conference

Document Type



Over the years, courses teaching the principles of embedded systems have typically focused on programming microcontrollers at the register-level using assembly, a high-level language, or a combination of both. Teaching the fundamentals of microcontrollers will continue to be relevant in the future because these inexpensive processors will remain ideal for some low-level and single-purposed designs. However, microcontrollers have their limitations, especially in terms of their computational speed and inability to execute concurrent processes. Today, more sophisticated products, such as robots and smart phones, demand more powerful processors capable of supporting operating systems for multitasking. With the evolution of Moore’s Law, there are single-board computers that are roughly the size of credit cards, or even smaller, which can support these demands with increasing efficiency and affordability. As a result, these small multicore systems have sparked new growth in several sectors. For example, the robotics sector has recently seen robots, such as quadrotors and vacuums, become commonplace in households and businesses. To better prepare our graduates for these changes, we modified our embedded systems course so that it encompasses single-board computers, as well as classical microcontrollers, and applies them in robotic applications. This paper discusses how we incorporated the Raspberry Pi and Robot Operating System (ROS) into our undergraduate embedded systems course, which used to be exclusively based on microcontrollers. Our contributions are details on how we integrated the new concepts, transitioned between the hardware platforms, and built a series of robot-based mini-projects that reinforced the course’s learning objectives.

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