Prof. Bernd Bruegge TUM - portrait

Successful failures: learning robotics with Prof. Bruegge

Prof. Bruegge and his colleagues about his experience using Duckietown and the new 4GB Duckiebots.

Munich, April 3rd: Prof. Bruegge (Brügge) studied computer science at the University of Hamburg and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), where he also earned his doctorate. Appointed as Professor at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in 1997, and also associate professor at CMU, Prof. Brügge was on the research committee of Deutsch Telekom and the Munich district. He has served on the board of directors of the Center for Digital Technology and Management, and acted as liaison professor for the Max Weber Foundation and the German National Academic Foundation (2000–2017). 

Quick links

Failing successfully, an interview with Prof. Bruegge

Prof. Bernd Bruegge - Duckiebot - Crete

Prof. Bruegge and the JASS 2023 summer camp

Prof. Bruegge, Bernd, is an established computer scientist researcher and Professor, having (co)authored hundreds of peer reviewed publications with over 8800 citations at the time of this writing.

Emeritus Professor since 2021, Bernd regularly contributes to the organization and running of the Joint Advanced Student School (JASS)

In this interview we capture his experience from the summer 2022 edition. 

We are thrilled to have this chat with him! 

The Joint Advanced Student School (JASS) is a yearly summer retreat for advanced robotics studies held in Cyprus.
Good morning! Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Bernd Bruegge. I was a Full Professor of Computer Science at the Technical University in Munich, I was at Carnegie Mellon before I joined the Technical University. I was for 20 years at the Computer Science Department at CMU in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

What can you tell us about this JASS school event that took place in Cyprus?

The recent [2023] school was quite an adventure! 

My colleague, Prof. Kirill Krinkin, was in St. Petersburg. We had done all the JASS projects with Kirill and support activities by JetBrains in St. Petersburg. And as you know, it’s a total disaster there, there’s nothing left.

So we organized this school in Cyprus with 10 students from Munich and 10 from Cyprus and St. Petersburg. And once there, we built an advanced Duckiebot system, with focus on context sensitivity.

We looked not only at intersections and turns, but we also had times when the Duckiebots would have to slow down, or stop at repair sites where we had traffic lights. There were not only OCR codes, we used Thread and Matter. Are you familiar with Thread and Matter?

I call this a "successful failure". The challenge in using advanced technology in the real world is that when you explore edge cases, unexpected situations may arise that one would not have considered by just simulating the same scenarios.

Is this a new functionality you added to the system?

Yes, this is actually an add-on we made to Duckietown. It’s a new IP standard that allows to save energy much, much more than Bluetooth. It’s actually better by a factor of 10. We added Thread and Matter capabilities to our Duckietown environment.

Screenshot
Duckiebots on table, student looking
That's fascinating! When did you first encounter Duckietown?

Well, I first heard of Duckietown a long time ago. As you know, I have been at Carnegie Mellon, which competed with MIT and Stanford. And when Kirill told me he would be a visiting professor at MIT, I asked: “What are you doing there?” And he said, “I’m using Duckietown!”

He was interested in robots and robotic technology and observed that this new technology is actually more like an environment and ecosystem than just a robot.

We then came up with a few ideas: first in St. Petersburg, we used a combination of drones and Duckiebots. Our scenario included two airports and a (duckie!) passenger. The drone had to pick up the duckie from one Duckiebot, and the students, divided into three teams, had to develop their own pickup mechanisms.   

Each of them with different approaches. One used magnets, the other one used scoops, and so on. They had to then transport the duckie from airport A to airport B using indoor navigation GPS. There was our first really impressive demo.

Credits: Special thanks to Andreas Jung and Ruth Demmel, and the multimedia team supporting Prof. Bruegge. 

Prof. Bruegge, do you feel you achieve your objectives?

I’d say we didn’t fulfill our technical objectives. The main challenge with Duckiebots was the third, omnidirectional, wheel, which had too much attrition. So, for instance, if we came to drive near a church, the idea would be to slow down the speed. But then we discovered it was difficult to control the Duckiebot at low speed, since when it comes down to a crawl, friction may cause it to stop. So operating at low speeds was not a practical possibility.

But I call this a “successful failure”. The challenge in using advanced technology in the real world is that when you explore edge cases, unexpected situations may arise that one would not have considered by just simulating the same scenarios.

I think the Duckiebot is good at lane-following and following traffic rules. When looking at context sensitivity though the challenges are trickier. So, e.g., we have a construction site with two traffic lights, how to coordinate them so to minimize, e.g., traffic? If you have one Duckiebot coming from one side and one coming from the other, then one traffic light should go green, and the other one should be red. 

But then we also have the idea that you have one traffic site that consists of multiple repair sites. In that situation the Duckiebots, lining up at the red traffic light, should have a green wave to go through each of the traffic lights until they exit the last traffic light.

So what we had in mind was coordination, making sure the Duckiebots were talking to each other. We used Python and the Duckiebots with 4GB NVIDIA Jetson Nanos, and this happened during a five-day course.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We plan to prepare a special room for students from primary schools, to show them the interplay of autonomous driving and context-sensitive or ubiquitous computing. 

We would like to use the room in multiple ways. So we would like to have the Duckietown road sections, the tiles, interconnected in such a way that that allows us to switch between topographies basically in no time.

We have not been able to do this yet in an easy way, it’s always a scramble. Even if we use the same layout, the yellow tape is breaking or the white tapes are out of sync, and then we have to repair them.

So it would be great if we managed to keep the set up time for schools, especially for children (10 to 12 years), when doing exhibitions here, to under three minutes.

That's a great suggestion, thanks! Do you think Duckietown can be useful for younger learners too?

Yes, I think Duckietown can be very persuasive with young kids. They’re used to Lego or Fischer products, so when they meet the Duckiebot, that’s their first exposure to robots.

We actually have another project in mind, a series of Summer Schools. I’m a retired professor now, I don’t have to teach so I have time for Summer Schools! One will take place in the Dolomites, where the challenge will be a logistic one taking place in a factory. It will include robots moving packages around a warehouse.

Learn more about Duckietown

Duckietown enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences.

It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell?

Reach out to us!

Giulio Vaccari portrait - Politecnico di Milano

Spearheading Autonomy: Giulio Vaccari and the amazing AEA

Giulio Vaccari tells us how he spearheaded Duckietown at the Milan Polytechnic through the AEA student association, to support autonomy research and networking.

Milan, February 29th: Giulio Vaccari, master student at the time of this interview, tells us how and why he spearheaded the use of Duckietown at the Polytechnic of Milan, one of the most important Italian engineering universities.

Giulio Vaccari with colleagues using Duckietown in a classroom at the Polytechnic of Milan

Spearheading Autonomy: Giulio Vaccari and the amazing student Automation Engineering Association (AEA)

An interview with Giulio Vaccari from the Polytechnic University of Milan

Hello and welcome Mr. Giulio Vaccari! Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Giulio Vaccari, and I’m a master student at the Politecnico di Milano (“Polimi”). I am studying automation and control engineering and I am right now in the process of finishing my thesis with Duckietown. During my five years here, I founded the student Automation Engineering Association, focused on automation engineering. At the “Polimi” the course of control and automation engineer is not super big, now it’s getting bigger. More and more people are joining, but it’s still pretty small compared to, for example, computer science or other bigger courses. The idea of our association was to help with networking, help to understand what are future possible career paths as automation engineers. That’s why together with some friends we decided to found the association some years back.

Very interesting. How does Duckietown fit in all this?

It all started when I met and talked with Jacopo Tani and Vincenzo Polizzi I believe three years ago.

I had some friends, older friends, at ETH Zurich that introduced us to Duckietown as a possible project for our association, that at the time was still pretty small. We were newborn and we liked the idea of start working with Duckietown right away, because we were looking for a project that we could treat like a competition. It’s easier to get more people to know each other and network, when they have a common goal, as there are common topics to discuss.

I wanted something that would help us develop teamwork skills, something around which to build a strong team. Then this idea evolved a little bit and now we have a very focused and skilled team that works with aim of doing good at the Artificial Intelligence Driving Olympics (AI-DO). We did our first competition in 2021, in December, and it went well. Now we are improving. We are still working on it.

Giulio Vaccari with and members of the Automation Engineering student association at the Polytechnic of Milan
Giulio Vaccari and colleagues presenting Duckietown at the Polytechnic of Milan
Could you tell us more about your team's experience with the AI-DO competition?

Sure! We ended up being finalist, I’m very proud of that! In the meantime, I talked with some professors to try to get some help to improve what we were doing with Duckietown, to have some suggestions on what we should focus on. I was lucky enough to meet a Professor, now my thesis advisor, who had already heard about Duckietown and liked it. I was very happy that we were able to bring Duckietown to the Politecnico of Milano. Although the AI-DO are over now, I’m still doing related work, so I’m able to help the team do better while working on my thesis. Duckietown is now part of the laboratory for autonomous driving here at PoliMi, and I feel like managing to get Duckietown to be adopted by the Politecnico di Milano is a pretty big thing that I’m still proud of! 

And you should be! Do you use Duckietown also in the activities of the association?

When it comes to the association, we are focused on AI. We have a team of around 20 people working on different things. We use Duckietown also to do outreach when we have, for example, “associations days”, which are open days when students from high schools come and visit the University. That’s when we showcase Duckietown to show both what we do as an association but also what a control engineer is supposed to do, because it’s very difficult to explain otherwise.

What do you like about Duckietown? Why do you think it is useful for what you do?

Through Duckietown, it’s very easy to implement ideas in the real world. Usually if you need to build something like that from scratch, it will be super difficult. There are a lot of failure points, while with Duckietown we can just deploy it and it just works. This is super cool. We can also test a lot of different control strategies with very low effort. I mean, just the fact of writing the control algorithm, deploying it and it just works is huge. So this makes things super easy. Duckietown is very friendly and easy to use. It’s not something you often see in robotics, which is instead usually very complicated and intimidating. Yes, very intimidating. And Duckietown is even very friendly looking, and this is definitely a big plus!

Do you think people that are using Duckietown, are satisfied with it?

Yes, we had really positive feedback. I mean, everyone is really happy to work with Duckietown and we had so many people applying that we had to limit the team size because that would’ve made it very difficult to manage all those people. So I would say it had a very positive impact in general on the association. People are generally enthusiastic to just see the robots going around.

There are a lot of failure points in robotics, while with Duckietown we deploy our algorithms and it just works. This is super cool. We can test a lot of different control strategies with very low effort.

Vaccari and friends - Polimi
Would you suggest it to colleagues or other student associations?

Yes, for sure. But I see that it’s not only our team; also the Professor that I’m working with is very happy to be able to use it, also as a benchmark for different controls. There are other universities that have their very specific tracks to run their robots, while with Duckietown, it’s super easy to test like, the same strategy in different environments, but still with the same basics. This is a very positive thing also for the university.

Thank you very much for taking the time, we appreciated your story very much! Is there anything else you would like to add?

Right now I’m working on a different subject. So I’m using still Duckietown, but not in a city environment, but in a racing environment. My objective is to set up a racing track and have two robots compete against each other. They are still not competing, but we are getting close. It’s very nice that together with the Duckietown team, we are working on the urban environment, using different kind of materials to create these racing environments. I think it’s very cool.

There are also some issues every now and then. Maybe something that is not super easy to find, something that is very in depth, some APIs. If you want to use them, you need to dive deep. There is a support Slack channel though, and it’s super easy to ask for help. This too I believe is very nice and just adds to the positive experience.

Special Giulio Vaccari content!

We found in our archives the video submission of Giulio Vaccari and his team at AEA on the occasion of the 2021 AI Driving Olympics finals. In this fun, short, video team PoliMi explains the rationale and challenges faced in developing an ML-based agent for the 2021 competition!

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences. It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell?

Reach out to us!

Professor Peter Affolter of BFH portrait

Driving autonomy education at BFH with Prof. Affolter

Bern, Switzerland: Prof. Peter Affolter, Head of the automotive department at Berner Fachhochschule (BFH), shares his experience creating a curriculum in autonomy education with Duckietown. Quick links Bern University of Applied Science Prof. Peter Affolter @ BFH Prof. Peter Affolter Driving autonomy

Bern, Switzerland: Prof. Peter Affolter, Head of the automotive department at Berner Fachhochschule (BFH), shares his experience creating a curriculum in autonomy education with Duckietown.

Students controlling Duckiebots at BFH

Driving autonomy education with Duckietown

Prof. Affolter at the Bern University of Applied Sciences introduces autonomy education in the automotive curriculum

Hi! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I'd like to start by asking you to introduce yourself, and tell us who you are and what you do.

Certainly! My name is Peter Affolter. I am at the head of the automotive department at the Bern University of Applied Science. I work as a lecturer in autonomous driving, vehicle communications, and related areas.

How did you get to know Duckietown?

The first time I saw it was probably two or three years ago. I came across it by chance while Googling on the internet. I was looking for information about lessons and classes on autonomous driving, a very complicated topic. I was searching for an easy platform, especially hardware, to simulate a simple vehicle. Then, I stumbled upon Duckietown. Initially, it looked a bit childish, but I was surprised by its concept, quality, and comprehensive documentation, including lessons slides for this complex theory. I decided to focus on Duckietown, especially on the massive online open course hosted on edX [Self-Driving Cars with Duckietown]. I also really enjoyed the great support from all the stakeholders and universities involved in this initiative.

Students learning robotics in at BFH with Duckietown
Did you find the "Self-Driving Cars with Duckietown", the massive open online course (MOOC) on edX, helpful?

Yes, at that time, there was only the archive available on edX.org, and I registered there. I couldn’t participate in real-time, but I went through the materials myself. I also contacted the Duckietown staff, and they provided me with support and missing documents. I adapted the content for my own class, focusing on bachelor-level students, parallel to the massive online open course from edX.

Very interesting, so you adapted the materials for your course. How did you set up the class, did you find any challenges?

It was clear to me that I could introduce our students, future automotive engineers, to autonomous driving. I wanted to give them an overview of the potential, limits, obstacles, and areas needing progress. Since they were not programmers or IT technologists, I needed to simplify it. I decided to conduct whole-class courses using video material from the MOOC. I adapted the quizzes and provided them with virtual machines, avoiding Linux and network issues. They could use the vehicles hosted on the BFH server farm through a browser terminal, even utilizing the Duckiebots. It became an infrastructure for exercises from simulation to reality, based on Duckietown classes.

How did the teaching experience go?

The first class had potential for improvement, but we adopted a flipped classroom approach with four lessons a week for 16 weeks. Students studied theory at home, and class time was for exercises, discussions, and additional explanations. The students enjoyed it, and while they didn’t grasp every detail, they felt proud and motivated. There’s still plenty of room for improvement in the next classes. They grasped the feeling and had the chance to work on neural networks, image manipulations, and more. I made good progress, and there’s still plenty of material to explore and implement in future classes.

Honestly, I haven't found another hardware platform as good as Duckietown for my needs. It's a simple platform with a fun approach, well-documented, and with a really reactive community. Even compared to other commercial products, Duckieown stands out. It fulfills all the needs from beginners to experts.

What were your overall impressions introducing autonomy education to your students with Duckietown?

Honestly, I haven’t found another hardware platform as good as Duckietown for my needs. It’s a simple platform with a fun approach, well-documented, and with a really reactive community. Even compared to other commercial products, Duckietown stands out. It fulfills all the needs from beginners to experts.

Thank you again for sharing your experience with us. Best of luck in your next classes!

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences. It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell?

Reach out to us!

Felix Donoso Duckietown POD

Practical and playful: Duckietown talks with Prof. Donoso

Félix Donoso, Associate Professor at Duoc UC uses Duckietown to teach his students about the science and technology of autonomy in a practical and playful way.

Santiago de Chile, 17 October 2023: Learn how Félix Donoso H., Associate Professor at the School of Computer Science and Telecommunications at the Duoc UC Professional Institute, utilized the Duckietown platform to engage with students and teach them complex concepts in a practical and playful way.

Happy students use Duckietown

Practical and playful, an interview with Prof. Donoso

Hi! Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Félix Donoso H. I hold a Master’s degree in Education, specializing in Teaching for Higher Education. I am also an Engineer in Connectivity and Networks and have a Diploma in Applied Research and Innovation. I have been working in higher education for 8 years. Currently, I am an Associate Professor at the School of Computer Science and Telecommunications at the Duoc UC Professional Institute. I am involved in various projects at the Center for Innovation and Technology Transfer.

We read on the DUOC website about your Duckietown class, could you tell us a little more about it?​
At the Center for Innovation and Technology Transfer of the School of Computer Science and Telecommunications at DuocUC, we have recently implemented Duckietown to offer our students hands-on experience in robotics and autonomous vehicles. The workshops are designed to teach fundamental concepts of control, computer vision, and machine learning, using the Duckietown platform to provide a hands-on and cutting-edge yet accessible experience.
top view of duckiebots on a section of duckietown, rubber duckies scattered around, traffic signs
side view of duckiebots on a section of duckietown, rubber duckies scattered around, traffic signs
What is the pedagogical focus of your learning activities?
The pedagogical approach is and will be eminently practical and collaborative. We want students to not only understand theoretical concepts but also apply them in a real environment. Collaboration among students is essential, fostering teamwork and problem-solving in a practical context.
How did you learn about Duckietown?​
I learned about Duckietown during a robotics course at the University of Chile. The platform was presented as an innovative educational tool, and I was intrigued by its potential to teach complex concepts in an accessible and attractive way.
What is the thing you liked most about using Duckietown in your class?​
What I liked most about using Duckietown was the ability to bring abstract concepts to real life. Students were able to see how their algorithms and codes work in a tangible and entertaining environment, making the concepts easier to understand and more appealing.
How did your students react to the course?​

The students responded very positively.
The practical and playful nature of the course allowed them to actively engage
in learning, and many expressed that the experience with Duckietown has been
one of the most memorable in their education. 

Pablo Zapata, a fourth-year student of Computer Engineering and one of the project members, highlights that “my experience has been incredible, as I entered an area that is not part of our curriculum, and for this reason, we have learned to build robots and work with different components. This project has surprised me a lot because of the
technology we are using, and at the same time, it has greatly enriched us over
time.”

On the other hand, Néstor Carvacho, a second-year student in the Computer Programmer Analyst career, points out that “I have been able to work with cutting-edge technology and, with it, learn new work tools that are not part of my career; like Linux, which will help me
in my future work.”

Duckietown has allowed students from different campuses of the school of computer science and telecommunications at Duoc UC to immerse themselves in the world of robotics and autonomous vehicles, Linux, ROS, and Python, in an accessible and exciting way.

Felix donoso and two colleagues kneeling behind a duckietown setting (duckietown, duckiebots, traffic signs)
How would you recommend we improve the platform?
Although the platform is excellent, it could benefit from more resources and tutorials aimed at different levels of experience. It would also be helpful to have more examples of projects and applications in different fields to inspire students and showcase the versatility of the platform.
Would you like to add anything else?

I would just like to emphasize how valuable the Duckietown platform has been to our institution. It has allowed students from different campuses of the school of computer science and telecommunications at Duoc UC to immerse themselves in the world of robotics and autonomous vehicles, Linux, ROS, and Python, in an accessible and exciting way. I am eager to see how the platform evolves and how we can continue to use it in the future with the practical challenges we are preparing.

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences. It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell?

Reach out to us!

Graham Dodge - Magic Inc.

There’s MAGIC in Westminster: innovating and cultivating, an interview with Graham Dodge

Westminster, Maryland: MAGIC and Duckietown partner to bring robot autonomy education in Westminster, MD.

The Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC) was awarded funding from the Knorr-Bremse Global Care program in July of 2022 to launch an Autonomous Robotics Innovation Center (ARIC) in the heart of downtown Westminster.

Their goal for ARIC is to use the Duckietown platform to give Westminster students industry-relevant skills and hands-on experience that will prepare them for careers or further learning in robotics and engineering.

Quick links

Bringing industry relevant skills and hands-on experience to high school and undergrad students

We are very pleased to announce our partnership with MAGIC, bringing the Duckietown platform to Carroll County students and introducing the local community to robotics and AI technology.

MAGIC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization headquartered in Westminster, MD, USA. Their mission is to build a technological ecosystem that creates and nurtures talent, entrepreneurship, and tech businesses, elevating the Westminster Gigabit community to lead the Mid-Atlantic region.

We talked with Graham Dodge, Executive Director of MAGIC, to know more about their new Autonomous Robotics Innovation Center (ARIC) project and how Duckietown is being used in this context.

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Hi! Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Graham Dodge. I’m the executive director of Magic Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Maryland, United States. We focus on technology, education, and workforce development within our community.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Graham. How did you learn about Duckietown?

I was speaking with the CEO of a local company called Dynamic Dimension Technologies. We were discussing our autonomous corridor project in the city of Westminster, Maryland. He recommended using Duckietown as a platform to demonstrate some of the technologies to local elected officials and stakeholders. After seeing videos of Duckietown on their website, I was impressed by its user-friendly and cute approach to making technology accessible to people unfamiliar with computer vision and robotics. It seemed like a perfect way to explain these concepts to our community.

Very interesting! What are you using Duckietown for?

Initially, we used Duckietown to demonstrate autonomous technologies for our corridor project. However, we later secured funding and set up the Autonomous Robotics Innovation Center (ARIC), where we now use Duckietown for a broader robotics program. In ARIC, we teach students ROS, Python, Linux, and the documentation that comes along with Duckietown. Additionally, we plan to integrate railroad intersections with Duckietown, thanks to grant funding from Knorr-Bremse Global Care program in Germany, a train parts manufacturer involved in autonomous train systems.

“We’re seeing that students with very minimal computer science education can jump right into Duckietown and excel”.

Graham Dodge

That’s impressive, so you are integrating Duckietown with a rail system?

Yes, we are considering names like Duckierail or Duckietrains. This project aims to develop open-source solutions for Duckiebots to interact with trains and railroad crossings. We are excited to collaborate with the Knorr-Bremse Global Care program, who provided the funding, to showcase rail systems in a smart, connected infrastructure with autonomous vehicles.

We can’t wait to see the developments! Are you satisfied with your experience with Duckietown so far?

Absolutely! We started with a small MOOC kit, and despite lacking an internal instructor, two student interns managed to get the Duckiebots up and running within three months. The hands-on experience has been rewarding for them, and it’s remarkable how much they’ve learned. We are now expanding the program and have plans to engage with local colleges as well.

That’s fantastic! So, do you see Duckietown as a valuable tool for education and career development in the robotics industry?​

Yes, absolutely! Our goal is to set up an apprenticeship program for career pathway development. By providing students with hands-on experience through Duckietown, we aim to make them more attractive to local employers in the robotics industry. The students are already gaining valuable skills that match or even exceed those of some graduate students seeking internships with the same employers.

“We’ve had industry professionals and
local employers look at what we’re teaching and say that what our
high school interns are learning and building with Duckietown is more advanced – and
more industry relevant – than most of the undergraduate students they’ve seen”.

Graham Dodge

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences.

It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.


Get Started with Duckietown!


Find out more use cases

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell? Reach out to us!

Prof. Das- IIT Jaidpur

Robotics education and research at IIT Jodhpur: an interview with Prof. Debasis Das

IIT Jodhpur, June 03, 2023: Prof. Debasis Das of IIT Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India, tells us about his experience in bringing Duckietown to his lab to support the teaching, research, and outreach efforts of his team in the fields of autonomous vehicles, robotics, computer vision, machine learning.

Robotics education and research at IIT Jodhpur: an interview with Prof. Debasis Das

Hello Professor Das, thank you for your time in taking our questions. How did you learn about Duckietown?

I learned about the Duckietown project through a variety of sources, including online platforms like social media, discussion forums, and academic publications, where many researchers and robotics enthusiasts have shared information related to the project. Additionally, some of my collaborators have also mentioned the project and its educational and research goals. Through these sources, I gained an understanding of what the Duckietown project is and the impact it has had in the field of robotics education and research.

This is great to hear! Starting from the education aspects, what classes are you teaching at IIT Jodhpur using Duckietown?

Duckietown is being used for a variety of classes and educational programs, primarily in the fields of computer science and engineering at IIT Jodhpur. Most recently we have utilized the platform to teach the following classes:

  • Vehicular Ad Hoc Networks: This class focuses on the design, development, and testing of autonomous vehicles using the Duckietown platform to simulate real-world scenarios.
  • Robotics and Mobility: This class teaches students the principles of mobility and the role of machine learning for decision-making, using the Duckietown platform for practical exercises.
VANET lab team at IIT Jodhpur - Prof. Debasis Das

What has your and your students’ experience been in these courses? 

We have found that hands-on learning experiences, such as those provided by Duckietown, are more effective in increasing students’ knowledge and capacity to recall topics than standard lecture-based teaching approaches. 

Furthermore, the dynamic and fascinating elements unique to Duckietown increase students’ passion for and interest in their assignments.

We have received large positive feedback for Duckietown from students and researchers who have used it at IIT Jodhpur, with many appreciating its entertaining and challenging nature. The platform’s scalability and ease of use across a wide range of disciplines and programs are commendable. Students also appreciate the opportunity to learn programming and problem-solving with real-world robotics difficulties. 

Though there may be some disparities in how each student utilizes the platform and what they gain in terms of education and enjoyment, the data thus far suggests that Duckietown can be a helpful and fun resource for students working in robotics and related fields.

"The Duckietown platform has been a valuable resource in supporting our research activities. We have used it as a tool for engaging with the broader community and promoting interest in science, technology, engineering, and STEM fields, including hosting workshops, competitions, and other events that showcase the capabilities of autonomous vehicles and provide opportunities for hands-on learning and exploration."

Visit to Prof. Das Duckietown research lab at IIT Jodhpur

Are you using Duckietown to support your research activities too?

Yes, the Duckietown platform has been a valuable resource in supporting our research activities. We have used the platform to test and evaluate novel algorithms and methods for autonomous vehicle design and control, and to investigate issues such as computer vision, machine learning, and control systems.

Are there other ways Duckietown has helped you conduct teaching, research, and outreach efforts?

We have used Duckietown as a tool for engaging with the broader community and promoting interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. We have hosted workshops, competitions, and other events that showcase the capabilities of autonomous vehicles and provide opportunities for hands-on learning and exploration.

Lab visit to VANET@IITJ - outreach effort using Duckietown

Would you suggest Duckietown to your colleagues?

Yes, I would definitely recommend Duckietown to my colleagues who are interested in teaching and researching areas such as autonomous vehicles, robotics, computer vision, machine learning, and control systems.

Duckietown provides a realistic and scalable environment for testing and assessing novel algorithms and methods for autonomous vehicle design and control, as well as a platform for engaging students and the general public in learning and discovery in these domains.

"We have received large positive feedback for Duckietown from students and researchers who have used it at IIT Jodhpur, with many appreciating its entertaining and challenging nature. The platform's scalability and ease of use across a wide range of disciplines and programs are commendable."

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences.

It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell? Reach out to us!

Shima Akbari - La sapienza

Shima Akbari graduates with Duckietown at La Sapienza University in Rome

“La Sapienza” University of Rome, April 28, 2023: Shima Akbari, a Ph.D. student at the Italian National Program in Autonomous Systems, shares her experience working with Duckietown for her master’s thesis on lane following control for mobile robots.

Shima's work on control strategies for lane following

Hi, thank you for joining us today. Could you introduce yourself?

Certainly. My name is Shima Akbari, and I have a degree in Control Engineering from “La Sapienza” University of Rome. Currently, I am a Ph.D. student in the Italian National Program in Autonomous Systems.

You recently obtained your master’s degree, congratulations! You worked on lane following control approaches for mobile robots using Duckietown. How did you discover Duckietown?

I first learned about Duckietown while working on my master’s thesis. I have always been passionate about control and autonomy, particularly in mobile robots. However, I didn’t want to limit my project to theoretical calculations or computer simulations. I wanted to have a practical component to my work. When I shared this with my supervisor, Professor Oriolo, he introduced me to Duckietown and suggested that I conduct my experiments in this environment. So I implemented the lane following control in the Duckietown environment as part of my master’s thesis, using both the Duckietown simulator called Duckietown Gym, and the Duckiebots, which are the robots used in Duckietown. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of conducting my tests.

It’s great to hear you enjoyed working with Duckiebots! Tell us a little more about your project and what was your experience like.

My thesis focus was on computer vision based control. I used OpenCV, the well known computer vision library, and the camera mounted on the Duckiebots to extract lane lines from the streets in Duckietown. Based on information extracted from these features, I implemented control laws that enabled the Duckiebot to drive on the streets inside lanes.

To familiarize myself with the platform, I started by taking the Duckietown massive open online course on edX and completed the assignments and homework on my own. One of the modules was about implementing a PID controller for lateral position and another on steering rate control. I enjoyed the Braitenberg vehicles activity too, but my favorite project was on obstacle avoidance, obstacle detection, and computer vision.

"In engineering, true learning comes from practical implementation, and Duckietown offers that opportunity effectively."

You are studying in a field that is statistically dominated by male presence. What are your thoughts on this?

It’s indeed the case. According to recent statistics, only 16% of women are in engineering compared to 84% of men. While I acknowledge this disparity, I believe that women are just as capable as men in engineering or any other field. Moreover, I think that the situation is improving over time. If we look at statistics from 10 to 20 years ago, the percentage of women in engineering was even lower.

What would you say to a young woman who wants to study engineering and may be discouraged by the statistics?

I would tell her that statistics and other people’s opinions should not deter her from pursuing her interest in engineering or any other subject. She should follow her dreams and not be discouraged by external factors.

 

Thank you for this thought, we hope this interview will help it reach as many women thinking about pursuing engineering careers out there as possible.

Absolutely. I would recommend Duckietown to anyone interested in learning about autonomous systems, regardless of their background or gender. It provides an excellent opportunity to learn about autonomy and control in a practical and user-friendly way. In engineering, true learning comes from practical implementation, and Duckietown offers that opportunity effectively.

What would you consider to be the unique value or appeal of Duckietown? What makes it special?

I would say that the simplicity of Duckietown is its most appealing aspect. The robots are designed to be simple and easy to use, and working with them is a lot of fun. Additionally, Duckietown has excellent support, with comprehensive documentation and manuals that are written in a detailed, step-by-step manner. Even if you don’t have a strong background in tools like Linux or Docker, you can still make progress by reading and following the documentation

"Duckietown is simple and has excellent support, with comprehensive documentation and manuals that are written in a detailed, step-by-step manner. Even if you don't have a strong background in concepts like Linux or Docker, you can still make progress by reading and following the documentation."

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience with us, we really appreciate it. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’d just like to express how amazing it was for me to be introduced to and work with Duckietown. I would highly recommend it to others as well.

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences.

It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell? Reach out to us!

Lei Yang - University of Nevada

University of Nevada: Professor Lei Yang uses Duckietown based RET​

University of Reno, March 7, 2023: Lei Yang, Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the University of Nevada in Reno shares with us his experience conducting a program called Research Experience for Teachers (RET) focused on “Integrating Big Data into Robotics”. 

Professor Lei Yang tells us about conducting a Duckietown based Research Experience for Teachers

Professor Lei Yang shares with us his relationship with Duckietown and how it performed used in a K-12 teachers research experience led by the Computer Science and Engineering department of the University of Nevada in Reno.

Good morning Professor and thank you for finding the time to speak to me.

Good morning, thank you.

How did you come across Duckietown the first time? When did you discover it?

Well, we needed a specific platform for our project, and a collaborator from Europe told us about this platform he was very familiar with. He let us know that it was a great platform, and that we should have a look at it. We accepted and ended up using Duckietown and suiting it to our project.

Could you tell us more about this project?

For three years now at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Computer Science and Engineering department (CSE) we’ve been conducting a program called Research Experience for Teachers (RET) focused on “Integrating Big Data into Robotics”. It’s a six-week course, through which participants can gain hands-on robotics experience that can be later applied in classrooms, in a fun way. The main idea is trying to provide a research experience to K-12 teachers. That’s why we proposed the idea of using Duckietown to teach K-12 teachers. We asked ourselves. what is the state of the art in terms of data analytics, machine learning? I think Duckietown is a very good education platform for teachers. We make use of the very good materials provided by Duckietown and I’m very satisfied with its implementation.
We purchased a Duckietown set for each participant and let them bring the hardware back to their school. Some teachers started their very own robotics clubs! They basically utilize that as an additional platform for their students.

What would you say are the characteristics of Duckietown that make it useful for you?

Our RET program involves all K-12 teachers, and one of the main goals of our program is to work with these teachers to develop curriculum modules suitable for their students. We have teachers from different levels, but we find that actually middle school and high school teachers are kind of more suited for this program. Duckietown is freely available and includes curricula that can be adapted for all levels of education. It is tangible, it is accessible,  and looks fun!

"I think Duckietown is a very good education platform for teachers. We make use of the very good materials provided by Duckietown and I’m very satisfied with its implementation."

It’s also easy to deal with. We can find all the materials online, and it is hands-on as I already mentioned. People like hands on activities, it’s good for kids. The duckies also serve to present robotics as less intimidating, making it easier to teach the harder, underlying concepts. I think that’s very nice: it can be used to teach optimization, control theory, these are fundamental things. I think this is a platform that can suit people with different levels of background and also an easy way to start one’s journey into robotics.

What does the future hold?

I think we’ve done a great job this year, and the teachers liked our project. I can see a significant improvement compared to the first year. This is a three-year project, so this year was the last for the program. After the program expired, we submitted another proposal to continue utilizing Duckietown, and to integrate new things like blockchain technology and other new ideas into this program so hopefully we’ll be using this platform in the future as well.

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences.

It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell? Reach out to us!

How Duckietown set “Frank” Chude Qian on the path to autonomous vehicles

University of Toronto, February 3, 2022: “Frank” Chude Qian, A Master Student at the University of Toronto, shares with us his experience with Duckietown.

How Duckietown set Chude (Frank) Qian on the road to autonomous vehicles

“Frank” Chude Qian is a Master’s student at the University of Toronto. He first encountered Duckietown at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in 2019, and from that moment he decided that autonomous vehicles would have been his path forward.

Hello and thank you so much for having accepted to have this brief chat with us! Tell us about yourself and what you do.

Definitely! My name is Frank, and I’m currently a student at the University of Toronto. I’m in the second year of my program. I started as an Engineering Master’s student, and then I switched over to a Master of Science. My main focus is on developing the second generation of the University of Toronto’s autonomous vehicles that participate in the SAE Auto Drive Challenge. My work will end with the transition to the new vehicle, which will happen next year.

Thank you. Could you describe to us your first approach with Duckietown?

Yeah, definitely. So I was actually at ICRA 2019 wandering around and figuring out what to do with my life. I was taking part in another competition where I saw the Duckietown setup at the ICRA challenge [AI-DO 2]. It looked like great fun, I really loved the idea of how the project is and how it’s designed as a global initiative. You have people from different parts of the world trying to do the same thing, which I found inspiring.

Compared to the actual large-scale autonomous vehicles, Duckietown is an affordable option to learn mobility, and I really liked it. After I came back from ICRA, I just started looking at Duckietown and the AI Driving Olympics competition in more detail.

Frank Chude Qian and Jacopo Tani at Ai-DO 2, ICRA 2019

Nice! And how did that go?

In 2019, I started looking into what we could do with Duckiebots at my at Case Western Reserve University, where I was doing my undergrad studies. After learning about the AI-DO challenges, I was like, well, I’ll give it a try! It’s a challenge. I’m pretty competitive. So it took some trying and it ended up, I would say, good enough for where I was back then.

The other thing I looked into was Duckietown’s large code base for demonstrations because I was mainly working on answering the question: “what can you do with limited computing power for a system?”. I tested out the demos, and the Autolab idea, and tried to work on some improvements.

Back in 2019, there wasn’t a lot of work being done on that, unfortunately, but a good part of what was available had been tested, and the documentation was well-proofread. I then took over as a team lead for University of Toronto’s Autonomous Vehicle team, a role less involved with the project, but I still used Duckietown as a great introduction idea, of course.

We have a lot of students who are joining our team with almost no background in autonomous driving, and the Duckietown materials serve as a very good introduction idea to basically educate the younger students on the concept of autonomous vehicles.

Another thing I must say I learned a lot from is the Duckietown challenge and the evaluation side of the AI Driving Olympics, the evaluation server, and the idea of automated evaluation. I think I really gained a lot of experience and knowledge in testing and evaluating thanks to the Duckietown project.

Also along the way, I did another course project on a new baseline for the AI Driving Olympics or for what we call the conditional behavior cloning baseline. So that became another cross-project.

"It’s not only the cost-effectiveness but also the scalability of Duckietown and the potential it has to make a difference in key industrial sectors of the future."

It is great to hear that Duckietown helped you get comfortable with real self-driving cars. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Actually, yes. I know Duckietown is also planning on expanding its materials to the K-12 education side of things. I think that’s a great idea to get more students and younger folks excited about autonomous vehicles. And I think that one day autonomous vehicles will be more and more popular on the road, and the job market for developing and maintaining autonomous vehicles is going to be huge.

I really like the effort, and in fact, that’s probably something I’ll try to do: once I graduate from my current program, I’ll try to hop back on and further the development effort of expanding it to K-12 education.

Would you recommend Duckietown to students or colleagues?

Yeah, definitely! And I want to even sort of move it a step further.: for those students who want to get into autonomous vehicle research or development, but maybe their university doesn’t have much funding support for these kinds of programs, Duckietown is such a great project to just adopt.

You just start with the initial concept, and I’ve seen amazing research done thanks to Duckietown. I personally tried a couple of ideas, too. The one thing Duckietown can provide that nothing else can, as far as I can tell, at the same cost range is the development of multi-robot collaboration and the swarm robotics idea.

I think both of these features just provide great advantages for researchers and for students. You know, it’s a Jetson Nano plus some hardware. Or you can use the Raspberry Pi version. I think for students in the universities which don’t provide as much funding this could be a great starting point. And I personally learned so much throughout those projects, and ultimately that lead me to where I am today. So, yeah, definitely I would recommend it.

What would you say is the biggest quality of Duckietown?

I think from my experience with the AI-DO, it’s not only the cost effectiveness, but also the scalability of Duckietown and the potential it has to make a difference in key industrial sectors of the future.

Thank you very much!

Note from the editors: a few months after this interview, Frank started working as Software Simulation Developer at General Motors. Congratulations, Frank!

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences.

It is designed to help teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell? Reach out to us!

Introduction to robotics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell using Duckietown

University of Massachusetts, Lowell, December 20, 2022: Paul Robinette, Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML), shares with us his Duckietown teaching experience.

Introduction to robotics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell using Duckietown

Paul Robinette is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He shares his experience, and that of his students, using Duckietown for teaching throughout the years. His “Fundamentals of Robotics” (EECE 4560/5560) course with Duckietown platform has been repeating since 2019.
Paull Robinette and Duckietown

Thank you for finding the time to talk with us! Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Paul Robinette [Linkedin] and I’m a Professor of computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell [website].

When was your first experience with Duckietown? 

My first experience with Duckietown would have been when I worked at MIT as a research scientist, just after Duckietown was run. I didn’t have a chance to see it live there, but I did talk with several of the postdocs who worked on it as it ran. I also saw it live for the first time at ICRA 2019.

Do you use Duckietown or did you use Duckietown in the past for some specific project or activity?

Sure! For the last three years, I’ve been using Duckietown robots in my class every semester. Primarily I use the Duckiebots to teach ROS and basic robot skills through the Duckietown system and infrastructure. I leverage the development infrastructure heavily and some of the course materials as well.

That sounds great! Can you tell us more about your ongoing class?

The class I teach every semester so far is called Fundamentals of Robotics [2022 class page], and we go over the basics of robotics, starting with multi-agent processing or multi-process systems, like most robots are these days, some basic networking problems, etc. The Duckiebots are perfect for that because they have Docker containers on board which have multiple different networks running. They have to work with the computer system, so it’s always at least interfacing with the laptop. The robots can be used with a laptop, with a router, you can have multiple robots out at once, and they give the students a really good sense of what moving real robots around feels like. We have students start by implementing some open loop control systems, then have them design their own lane detector, similar to the Duckietown [perception] demo, and then have them design their own lane controller again, similar to the Duckietown [lane following] demo.

Are your students appreciating using Duckietown? Would you consider it a success?

Yes, especially the newer version. The DB21s are great robots for using their class applications and infrastructure. The software infrastructure has made it pretty easy to set up our own Git repositories for the robots and be able to run them. In this way, students can run them at home or on campus.

Would you suggest Duckietown to your students or colleagues?

Yes, I’d suggest Duckietown, especially if people want to run an introductory robotics class and have every student purchase their own robot, or have the University provide the robots for all. Duckietown is much more affordable than any other robot system that could be used for this same purpose.

"In my class we go over the basics of robotics, starting with multi-agent processing or multi-process systems, like most robots are these days, and the Duckiebots are perfect for that"

It is great to hear Duckietown addresses your needs so well. What would you say is the advantage that Duckietown has when compared to other systems?

I’d say the expense is probably the biggest advantage right now. It’s a nice platform and very capable for what we wanted to do. At this point, the fact that it’s affordable for students to purchase on their own or for us to purchase a bunch of them is definitely the biggest advantage for us. You guys also have a really quick response time if we have any problems. It’s nice to be able to talk directly with the development team and work with them to set up the systems so that I can run them in my class as I need to.

Thank you very much for your time!

Learn more about Duckietown

The Duckietown platform enables state-of-the-art robotics and AI learning experiences.

It is designed to teach, learn, and do research: from exploring the fundamentals of computer science and automation to pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

Tell us your story

Are you an instructor, learner, researcher or professional with a Duckietown story to tell? Reach out to us!