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New Textbook Examines Modern Robotics

Free to download, the textbook also includes video lessons and accompanying software

Professor Kevin Lynch wants to make it easier than ever to learn about the fundamentals of robotics.

In July, Cambridge University Press published Modern Robotics: Mechanics, Planning, and Control, a new textbook written by Lynch, chair and professor of mechanical engineering, and Frank C. Park, chair and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Seoul National University.

Kevin Lynch

Inspired by years of notes developed by Lynch in the ME 449: Robotic Manipulation course offered at Northwestern, Modern Robotics addresses fundamental topics like kinematics, mechanics, motion planning, and control using modern geometric tools that are destined to become standard in robotics education. While many robotics textbooks are written for graduate students, Lynch’s book is tailored to students with freshman-level backgrounds in physics, linear algebra, ordinary differential equations, and computing.

“Robotics has experienced rapid growth over the last ten years, but textbooks originally developed in the 1980s are still commonly used” Lynch said. “We wanted to develop a textbook that presents the field’s core topics in a more unified way using modern geometric tools. At the same time, we saw an opportunity to make the material more accessible to undergraduates early in their studies.”

Modern Robotics presents an updated perspective of the robotics field for a larger audience, including undergraduate students.Another major driver in the development of Modern Robotics was to eliminate cost as a barrier to getting started in robotics, particularly for students in developing countries. While students have to pay for a print version of the book, the preprint version is free to download. Lynch and his team developed free software to accompany the book, written in multiple programming languages, including free languages like Python and MATLAB clones. Chapter-ending exercises use a free robot simulator that runs on all major operating systems. Finally, the book is accompanied by free YouTube video lectures, filmed using the Northwestern Lightboard developed by Professor Michael Peshkin.

“We wanted to give back to the robotics community, and I’m very grateful for the financial and other support that Northwestern has given to this project,” Lynch said.

In addition to incorporating the textbook into Northwestern Engineering’s curriculum beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, Modern Robotics will also be used as the foundation of a new Northwestern MOOC specialization that will be available through Coursera starting in fall 2017. The specialization’s suite of six courses is equivalent to a year-long university-level course and will dive deep into the topics presented in the textbook.

“Students will receive a serious engineering experience in the MOOC specialization,” Lynch said. “The final project will provide authentic robot programming experience by challenging students to develop a motion planner and controller for a simulated mobile manipulator.”

Visit for more information about the textbook and to download a free preprint version.