Robot Doctor

The Basics of Robotics: The What, Why and How, with Examples and Take-home Problems

WQED and RobotWits are partnering to provide this educational video series that extends robotics and mathematics lessons to high school age students during the COVID-19 crisis. The series will be available on this site, and televised on WQED-TV Wednesday nights at 7:30pm through June 24, 2020. Pennsylvania’s other public television stations will also broadcast the series. Please check the schedules at WHYY, WITF, WLVT, WPSU, WVIA and WQLN for dates and times.

RobotWits LLC is providing educators content-related support and partnering with PA Rural Robotics to assist educators in planning and customizing content to complement their school district, students, and community needs. The series will be available to all public television stations in Pennsylvania so that the programs can reach rural as well as urban audiences, where Internet access can sometimes be a challenge.

Hosted by Dr. Jonathan Butzke, each of the eight 14-minute teaching videos includes a lesson assignment. Participating teachers can use the series to collect the assignments and make The Robot Doctor part of their curriculum.


Lesson 101 - Robotics: An Introduction
This video focuses on design elements: locomotion, end-effectors, appearance - and how they relate to a robot’s purpose.

assignment lesson 101

1. Choose a task for your robot to complete.
2. Choose the design elements. What does your robot need to get its job done?
3. Explain how the design elements help the robot do its job.
4. Choose a different task and compare design elements.

Open PDF Handout


Lesson 103: Robot Measurement
An exploration of the different ways to measure distances, speeds, time, and other items important to robots.

1. How long will it take for a robot sensor to get a return pulse?

  • Distance = 10 meters
  • Speed of sound = 343 meters/second

2. How high is the table the end effector must reach to grab the object?

  • Arm length = 50cm
  • Arm angle = .5 radians 

Open PDF Handout 


Lesson 102 - Sense, Plan, Act Framework
How a robot can break down its tasks into sensing the surroundings, planning what to do next, then executing the plan.

Assignment 102

Imagine you have a robot surveying an orchard, looking for ripe fruit to pick. 
1. What are the sense, plan, and act steps for this robot?
Imagine you have a robot vacuum cleaner.
2. What are the sense, plan, and act steps for this robot?
What do they need to sense? What kind of plan would they need to make? What are their actions?
3. Explain the steps that are similar, and the steps that are different between the two robots, and why.
4. How does the plan change when we use "lowest energy" instead of "fastest time?"

Open PDF Handout


Lesson 104: Robot Localization
Keeping track of position as a robot moves, and updating that position with math using ranges to known landmarks.

  1. If our robot is 5 meters from the tree (2, 13), 10 meters from the bush (13,11) and 5 meters from the pond (5,22), where is it?
  2. Now imagine the robot sees two landmarks, a pile of rocks (10,0) and an umbrella (20,0). The distance to both objects is 5 meters. Can you still determine the position of the robot?

Open PDF Handout 

Dr. Jonathan Butzke
The Robot Doctor is hosted by Dr. Jonathan Butzke, Lead Robotics Researcher at RobotWits, a Pittsburgh-based company that develops state-of-the-art technologies for a diverse set of autonomous decision making tasks. Dr. Butzke obtained his Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University where he worked in the Search-Based Planning Lab. His research activities include aerial and ground vehicle coordination, exploration of unknown environments, and the hardware design of numerous robots.