New Coursera Specialization on Modern Robotics

On Monday, April 16, 2018, McCormick professor Kevin Lynch launched a six-course specialization on Coursera on Modern Robotics. On the eve of the launch, Digital Learning caught up with Professor Lynch to find out what he has in store for the thousands of MOOC students across the globe.

Do you want to know how robots work?  Are you interested in robotics as a career? 

If the answer is yes, you’ll need to learn the kinematics, dynamics, motion planning, and control of mobile robots and robot arms to succeed. The six-course Coursera specialization launching this week, Modern Robotics: Mechanics, Planning, and Control, will give you the deep understanding of robotics you’ll need with the knowledge and skills that will help you get a job or undertake more advanced study.

The specialization is deep and rigorous, much like a university course sequence; it is not meant as a shallow robotics sampler for students with only a casual interest. To make the course as affordable and accessible as possible, we do not require any robot hardware or commercial software. Instead, we use the free cross-platform robot simulator V-REP.

Check out a sample video from Course 1, Foundations of Robotic Motion:

In the specialization, you will be required to write code, building on the Modern Robotics (MR) library we provide for you. The MR library is written in Mathematica, MATLAB, and Python, so we highly recommend you use one of these languages. You can obtain Python for free, or you can pay for Mathematica. Through support from MathWorks, you can also use MATLAB for free for the duration of the course. Information about downloading the MR library is available at

This specialization provides a rigorous treatment of spatial motion and the dynamics of rigid bodies, employing representations from modern screw theory and the product of exponentials formula:

  • Students with a freshman-level engineering background will quickly learn to apply these tools to analysis, planning, and the control of robot motion.
  • Students' understanding of the mathematics of robotics will be solidified by writing robotics software.
  • Students will test their software on a free state-of-the-art cross-platform robot simulator, allowing each student to have an authentic robot programming experience with industrial robot manipulators and mobile robots without purchasing expensive robot hardware.

For the class projects, students will build on free software that we provide, written in multiple languages, allowing them to choose their favorite language. Projects include writing a simulator for a robot arm, writing a robot motion planner, and writing software for trajectory planning and feedback control of a mobile manipulator consisting of a wheeled mobile robot and a robot arm.

Enroll today to join me and our first cohort!

Northwestern students, faculty, and staff: don't forget you can take the specialization at no cost. Please follow these special instructions to enroll.