Virtual Robotics Lab ("Top-Down")
Contributors:  David L. Anderson: Author, Storyboards
Robert T. Arrigo: Author, Storyboards
Kari Cox: Artwork, Storyboards
Michael Romanzow: Artwork, Author, Programming, Storyboards
Allison Steinhaur: Artwork, Storyboards
Robert Stufflebeam: Artwork



The Virtual Robotics lab gives users the opportunity to work in a robotics lab building and programing a mobile robot. The tasks include: assembling all physical components of the robot, building a robotic arm, writing scripts to direct the arm to pick up a Coke bottle, writing scripts to steer the robot's wheels to the activity table, loading "beliefs" into the main AI engine (ProtoThinker), and finally watching the Iris.4 robot move through the lab, pick up the Coke bottle, and put it into the recycler (an action it performs because in its "language of thought," it is a committed environmentalist).

The robot that you build in this lab is a "top-down" robot. That is, the robot's behavior will be controlled by a good 'ole fashioned artificial intelligence program (GOFAI) which is capable of having "beliefs" about the world, of making logical inferences, and is the single, centralized control device. This is in contrast to robots with a "bottom-up" design, like the IRRL Virtual Robot, also featured on our website.

The Iris.4 Robot that users construct in the virtual lab is a direct model of the physical Iris.4 robot built by a team of undergraduates at Illinois State University and their partners at the Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal. The Mind Project's Iris.4 Mobile Robot Group will consider proposals from other teams who would like to add some new capability to our robot or to improve on an existing capability. Each team should have one or more student-researchers and at least one instructor to serve as an advisor. Extensive documentation is available (below) showing how the real Iris robots have been built.

Both the lab and video introduction are Flash files that will play in any browser that has a recent Flash plug-in. To download a new Flash plug-in, go to Adobe.



This is an 8 minute Flash introduction to some of the basic functionality of The Mind Project's Virtual Robotics Lab.

VIRTUAL ROBOTICS LAB [Teacher's Version]

This version (the only one now available) does NOT keep track of your progress and does not save it. However, this version is still practical for use in the classroom. The lab is separated into 5 parts allowing the user to begin at any part. The small round "TO" button (=teacher options) at the bottom of the window brings up the "jump menu". One day, the class might complete parts 1-2. The next day everyone selects pt 3 on the "jump menu", and all objectives for parts 1 & 2 will be checked. This offers flexibility for an instructor who wants students to do the lab over several class periods. This way, on day two of working with the lab, all students can begin at part 3 of the lab at the same time (even students who were absent on day one).

MORE Robotics Curriculum & Virtual Labs

In addition to this "Top-Down" Robotics Lab we also have an immersive Virtual Lab where users create their own "hierarchies" to design a behavior-based ("bottom-up") robot to perform a task. We have integrated the two virtual robotics lab ("top-down" and "bottom-up") into a comprehensive curriculum introduction to robotics, focusing on the exciting application of robotics in the field of medicine.

  • Introduction to Robotics (w/ Virtual Labs & Medical Robots)

    The Mind Project has developed three virtual robotics activities (1 top-down, 2 bottom-up) and embedded them into a general introduction to robotics that focuses on the use of robots in medicine -- including medical research, surgery, hospital navigation and more. Explore this exciting new curriculum.

  • Virtual (Behavior-Based or "Bottom-Up") Robotics Lab

    Observe the behavior of a mobile robot interacting with its environment. Then, design your own hiearchy of robot-behaviors to replicate the behavior of the "target" robot. In the process you will be introduced to the elegance of "bottom-up" robotics.


Having built a virtual version of the Iris.4 robot, you now have the opportunity to build your own real-life physical version. All of the parts are readily available and the software is free. You can build your own, or you can submit a proposal to make improvements on The Mind Project's version of Iris.4 Email us if you are interested.


This module was supported by National Science Foundation Grant #0127561 and a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) supported by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).