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This unit focuses on trajectory optimization, a key tool in engineering design. The unit is framed as an engineering design challenge that requires the students to attempt to design an optimized trajectory for iRobot’s Roomba, an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner. Students view an interview with Sharon Padula, Senior Research Scientist in the Aeronautics Systems Analysis Branch at NASA Langley Research Center, which illustrates some of the ways in which NASA uses trajectory optimization in the design of helicopters, airplanes, and space machinery. Through a series of activities, including the use of a Traveling Salesman Problem Computer Simulation and a Roomba Trajectory Simulation that requires student data, students gain an understanding of how modeling and simulation can be useful, and are in fact essential, to engineers.

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