Knight Rover Robotics

When you want to learn about robotics where do you begin?

The Mind Project is launching its new “Knight Rover Robotics Initiative” with the goal to generate a robotics kit with low-cost, readily available hardware, a suite of innovative software, and instructional materials pitched at every level of expertise from novice to experienced programmer.

The heart of Knight Rover is the open source software “RObotics Orchestration Kit” (ROOK for short) created by Eric Thill, who has been the leader of The Mind Project robotics team since he was a sophomore at Illinois State in 2008.  ROOK has been created for use in educational settings and allows students to engage with the software regardless of their level of expertise. At the most basic level, students learn to use the software to make a robot perform certain behaviors. The deeper they dig the more they learn about computer programming and the greater freedom they achieve to re-write and expand the computational systems controlling their machine.

Like all of our physical robot projects, this one is designed to complement our “virtual” robotics labs and our other online curriculum in AI and robotics. How this robot project will integrate with specific online modules will be discussed below. You will find a complete list of our AI and robotics modules here. [add a link with the new “AI & Robotics Resources” or whatever page]


KR 1.0 (Knight Rover Version 1)

The ROOK software is remarkably flexible and can be used to control a wide range of different types of robotic hardware.  We have chosen to build our first Knight Rover robot (KR 1.0) using the GoPiGo hardware platform from Dexter Industries, which is relatively inexpensive and readily available.

    KR 1.0 Software: ROOK
    KR 1.0 Hardware: GoPiGo

The hardware kit uses basic sensors, motors, and other components along with a Raspberry Pi as its central processing unit (its “brain”). The team is working to add new hardware capabilities (sensors and end-affectors) and developing code to expand its "cognitive" powers. (See below)

The "KR 1.0 Development Page" [add link] is where team members post updates of their work progress. That page is available for anyone who wants to track our progress. If you would like to work alongside our team, making your contributions to this project, you may inquire about that possibility by contacting John Kuk. All applications will be considered.


Knight Rover Team (Spring, 2017)

Student Team Members
Kevin Dalle (Senior in IT/Computer Science, Illinois State University)
Vivek Abraham (7th Grade, Evans Junior High)
Tucker Carlson-Huber (8th Grade, Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School)

Project Mentors
John Kuk (BS 2000, MBA 2017, Illinois State University)
Eric Thill (BS 2010, Illinois State University)
Dr. David Anderson (Emeritus in Philosophy, ISU & Director, The Mind Project)


The Mind Project’s primary focus is on the creation of interactive, online curriculum modules that introduce cognitive science – the interdisciplinary study of cognition (mental activity, both biological and mechanical) – to students with no previous background. Many teachers (and their students) lack either the time or the resources to work with physical robots (they are both expensive and time-consuming) and so we have created “virtual” robotics labs and online robotics instruction to help students learn about artificial intelligence and robotics online.

Working on a virtual lab for a couple hours is not the same as working with a physical robot, however. Our goal is to offer the best possible resources for teachers who have used our virtual labs and are ready to move on to the real thing.

Robots are not all designed in the same way, with the same “architecture.”  While today’s cutting edge AI and robotics systems use a wide range of different approaches to achieve machine intelligence, a good starting point for understanding robotic architecture is to get some hands-on experience working with two fundamentally different kinds of robot: “top-down” robots and “bottom-up” (or "behavior-based") robots.

We have two virtual robotics labs that introduce students to these two types of robotic design:

Virtual Robotics Lab ("Top Down")

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

One of the first goals for this team is to produce a robot built on the "behavior-based" architecture. Rodney Brooks of MIT was an earlier developer and advocate of this approach, when it was completely ignored by most prominant roboticists. This page has a video in which Brooks explains his inspiration:

"Pioneers of Behavior-Based Robotics"

The best introduction to behavior-based robots is to design one yourself! In only 20 minutes engaging with our virtual behavior-based lab you will design a number of different robots and begin to understand how a relatively small number of "stupid" simulus-response behaviors, when arranged in a hierarchy (what Brooks calls a "subsumption architecture") can produce remarkably intelligent behavior. This lab, created by Ken Livingston and Josh de Leeuw (at Vassar College), has a brief one-page introduction and a way to design-your-own robot to try to replicate the behavior of the robot in a target video.

You can follow the progress of the Knight Rover Team by reviewing the "KR 1.0 Development Page" [add link]