Inspiring Students in Slovenia: BeagleBone® Blue Based Micromouse

Maze solving robots are one of the most engaging ways to expose teens to engineering, electronics and coding.  At the University of Ljubljana, the oldest and largest university in Slovenia, high school students are doing exciting work with robotic “mice” based on BeagleBone® Blue. We met up at Embedded World 2019 with Rok Vrabic, researcher and lecturer of Mechatronics in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, who shared their program with us.

BeagleBone® Blue Based maze solving robot at University of Ljubljana

Global robotic maze solving competitions such as Micromouse have been around since the 1980’s. Today, thanks to easy to use hardware and software, these competitions are inspiring the best students in the country to do challenging work that feels like play and at the same time encouraging them to consider engineering as a career path.  Vrabic lights up when he talks about the students and the competition they are preparing for in Slovenia in May.

“Truly, these kids are special. It is incredible how fast they learn, I guess that they just don’t know yet that programming and electronics are hard.”

Rok Vrabic and his BeagleBone®-based robot at RobotEx, the biggest competition in Europe, November 2018

 In addition to BeagleBone® Blue and the rcpy library (modified a bit) they use DC motors with encoders with a gear ratio of 30:1. These competition robots favor speed over accuracy so distance sensors are made from IR photodiodes and phototransistors.  One feature of the BeagleBone® Blue that they really enjoy is the 9-axis IMU, because rapid feedback is needed for precise turning when driving through the maze.

IMU test with BeagleBone® Blue and ROS used in student tutorials

With so many options available, why did Vrabic choose for their students learning tool?

“BeagleBone® Blue is the most integrated robotics controller on the market. It has absolutely everything one needs to prototype a robot (mobile, flying, whatever). We love that it runs Linux and that it is so small. I don’t think that there’s anything quite like it on the market (as in, anything that integrates H-bridges, an IMU, encoder inputs, ADC, communication over I2C and SPI, …).”

In addition to inspiring new students, the instructors have big plans to incorporate BeagleBones® into their courses and lab.  The faculty have started using them to teach ROS (Robot Operating System) and are also building a lab-scale AGV (autonomous guided vehicle) demonstrator, a multi-robot system, which should be finished early this summer.

See more photos of their Mazerobots.

For more information and to cheer on the team visit their lab page: LAKOS research group at Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, University of Ljubljana