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.
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.
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.
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!
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