Course Descriptions
MECH_ENG 449: Robotic Manipulation

Quarter Offered

Fall : MWF 2:00-2:50pm ; K. Lynch




butterflyMechanics of robotic manipulation, computer representations and algorithms for manipulation planning, and applications to industrial automation, parts feeding, grasping, fixturing, and assembly.

Who Takes It

This course is generally taken by graduate students and advanced undergraduates with consent of instructor.

What It's About

Humans are quite adept at manipulating the world. We can push a sofa on the floor, pivot a refrigerator on its legs, throw and catch a baseball, jiggle a key into a lock, shuffle and deal cards, and carry a tray of food without spilling. On the other hand, robots usually only manipulate the world by grasping and carrying. We can build a very precise positioning robot, but if it can't grasp the object in some way, there's not much it can do.

What accounts for this difference between humans and robots? For one, humans understand contact and dynamics from a lifetime of experience. Robots usually only know what we tell them, and we don't tell them much. We need a way to teach robots what we know about manipulation (or let them learn it themselves) if they are ever to become as dexterous as humans.

waiterIn this course we focus on the mechanical interaction between the robot and the object it is manipulating. We mostly ignore the problem of robot force or motion control, and concentrate on the interaction between the robot and the world. This interaction is governed by unilateral contact constraints, friction, rigid-body dynamics, and impact. The goal of this course is to understand the mechanics of the interactionbetween the robot and the world and to develop computer representations and algorithms that allow the robot to reason and plan.


Problem sets and a final project. There will be no exams.


Mechanics of Robotic Manipulation, M. T. Mason, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2001. ISBN 0-262-13396-2.

Supplementary material

A Mathematical Introduction to Robotic Manipulation, R. M. Murray, Z. Li, and S. S. Sastry, CRC Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8493-7981-4.


Professor: Kevin Lynch