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MIT is known for offering out-of-the-box interesting courses such as pirate training, street-fighting math, and so on. Its April 2016 spring course held at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) known as Duckietown tops them all. Duckietown Kickstarter project launched on 7th August 2018, teaches how to program self-driving cars at an affordable cost.

Duckietown is designed to be an affordable, modular, scalable, duckie-filled introduction to autonomous vehicles.

At present, the Duckietown kits are being used to teach practical self-driving robotics to students around the world. The idea with the Kickstarter is to help them scale up, providing robots and classroom kits that can do more for less money.

On asking why the initial Duckietown class turned into a much larger project via email, Andrea Censi, President of the Duckietown Foundation, replied to IEEE Spectrum, “We found ourselves receiving emails from both independent learners and educational institutions all over the world showing interest in different forms. We realized that without “scaling up” our methods, it would have soon been impossible to manage all the people that wanted to be involved.”

Why did Duckietown go to Kickstarter?

Andrea explained the need to establish a one-click-solution to obtain hardware. The  bottlenecks faced during the distribution of the Duckietown platform was the accessibility of the hardware, which included

(a) the time and effort necessary to obtain Duckiebots and Duckietowns,

(b) the price,

(c) the inconsistent availability of the components from the sources and their geographical location and related shipping limitations.

Most of the components in the Duckietown kit are off-the-shelf, and links to the vendors are provided. The shipping process is time-consuming and cost-ineffective. Vendors do not guarantee the availability of the components, only ship to some parts of the world, and might at any time run out of inventory for specific components or change the prices.

The Kickstarter is a way to solve this problem by raising the funds to create the necessary pipeline to make hardware available, anywhere, at any time, with the ease of a single click. Once the hardware distribution pipeline is established, one can purchase components in bulk and obtain lower prices.

No prior coding experience required with Duckietown Kit

Students or teachers who wish to use the Duckietown kit can follow step by step instructions detailed in their respective open-source Duckietown book (or Duckiebook). One of the highlights of this learning experience is, not much robotics or coding experience is necessary to follow these instructions.

Andrea said, “By just following the instructions, learners will experience the hardware assembly of a robot (need for sensing, actuation, power and computation), the basics of Linux and ROS (Robotic Operating System) operations, the need to calibrate the camera, and be able to “play around” (tune high level parameters) with fundamental car behaviors like lane following, obstacle (i.e. duckie and Duckiebot) avoidance, intersection navigation, and stopping at a red light.”

From an educational aspect, MIT envisions Duckietown to become a  milestone in learning experience in the fields of robotics and autonomy education. It will provide an educational experience which will be automatically tailored to each learner.

From MIT’s research aspect, Duckietown could become a standardized research testbed for embodied autonomy. This is the main goal of the AI Driving Olympics (AI-DO), with its first edition at NIPS 2018, and the second edition at ICRA 2019.

To know more about how Duckietown can be used to program self-driving cars, read Andrea Censi’s complete email interview at the IEEE Spectrum post.

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A Data science fanatic. Loves to be updated with the tech happenings around the globe. Loves singing and composing songs. Believes in putting the art in smart.


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