Robot Shooter

Michael A Thorburn, California State University-Los Angeles, Engineering
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Prepare a simple simulation using basic MATLAB tools to help students build upon their ability to use MATLAB, to create graphical outputs, to understand root finding, to understand stochastic processes, and to transition to a differential equation formulation. The problem is well suited for teams of students working together.

Learning Goals

The students should learn how to present a projectile problem in a very intuitive graphical way, with MATLAB doing the underlying computation. As the problem advances, more skill is required to recast the governing equation into a system of differential equations. Lastly, the problem introduces a random physical disturbance that will make the students think about how to simulate problems with a stochastic element and try to predict the most probable solution.

Context for Use

The problem was used in a sophomore level engineering class which introduced MATLAB. This is likely the students first formal programming class. The example steps the students through the use of loops and basic graphics. It also can be built upon to understand how to model more complicated systems (in this case, adding drag) as an incremental refinement in a mathematical model.

The students need to have had a first semester of physics to understand the governing equations. It is presented step by step initially and poses later steps as challenges without much instruction.

Description and Teaching Materials

The material is self contained. With a simple introduction, the students can step through the first parts simply. The resulting graphical output is intuitive and they will begin to understand what they are doing. The next steps allow for more independent thought and problem solving. Depending on the level of the students, this may require some additional assistance from the instructor.
Problem Introduction for Robot Shooter (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 175kB Aug19 19)
Instructions for Part 1 of Robot Shooter (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Aug19 19)
a matlab .m file with sample solution (Matlab File 249bytes Aug19 19)
matlab .m file with sample solution - core program (Matlab File 1kB Aug19 19)

Teaching Notes and Tips

I suggest you show the students the problem statement in the PowerPoint charts and then use the program to show them what the result might look like. Then ask the students to read the introduction and see if they have questions. This problem is well suited for students to work in pairs.


It is reasonably easy to see if they get the graphical output to work. It works well to ask the students at the end to present how they might have implemented the drag force.

This is a laboratory experience and not an exam. It could be used as a homework assignment.

References and Resources