I haven’t posted recently because I haven’t had time to mess with my robots. Instead, my free time has been taken up with learning more theory, via Udacity’s free 7-week class. There will be a new session starting next month, and I highly recommend that you check it out.
The class gives a broad but hands-on introduction to key robotic concepts and algorithms. It covered localization, filtering (monte-carlo, Kalman, and particle filters), pathfinding (intro to A*, dynamic programming, etc.), PID (Proportional Integrated Differential) control, and something called graph SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping). If you’re already well-versed in one or more of these, you probably won’t learn anything new on that subject, but if you’ve only a passing or no familiarity, the course is great.
The format for Udacity’s courses is what really stands out: short 5-10 minute videos with a question or short programming assignment at the end. It’s a slightly higher tech Khan academy: mostly an electronic whiteboard and pen, but some videos from Google’s autonomous vehicle and the DARPA challenge. The programming is done in python and submitted directly from the web page (although I recommend an IDE for the weekly homework programming).
Beyond the robotics course, I think this is starting on the path to the future of college education. I think it’s much like newspapers and the print Encyclopaedia Britannica. They have valuable features that the online experience can’t duplicate, but the cost differential is just too great to sustain the old model. When you can offer a college level course to thousands of students at once, on-line, and crowd-source support to partially make up for the lack of direct, 1 on 1 help, it’s hard to imagine that, in 10-30 years, this won’t be the future of a college degree. Now, it’s not there yet. This was a beta run, and the numerous glitches and automated grading problems made that abundantly clear. In addition, there’s a lot to work out, especially for non-tech courses. But, compared to $10-$50K per year for a college resident degree? I think I may have seen the future of education.
UPDATE 2/8/2013: I’m more convinced then ever that some sort of blended mix of low-cost online courses and a reduced “residency requirement” will be at least one model for future degrees. Private tuition costs have been rising faster than healthcare, while college credit is already becoming available for some online courses. The University of California system has partnered with Udacity to offer a couple of lower division and remedial courses for credit, online, for $150. And now, The American Council on Education (ACE) has approved five Coursera courses for “credit equivalency.” Personally, I loved the college experience, but with today’s high cost, it’s becoming unaffordable for too many, and/or imposing a huge debt.