coding simulator
A simulator lets students practice coding a robot to find a green target. Courtesy EDX

Mastering robots in the company of professors doesn’t require a classroom. Or even pants. EdX, a remote-learning site run by Harvard and MIT, offers dozens of free online courses, including one called Autonomous Mobile Robots. We audited a class to see what it entailed. Here’s how you, too, might pick up the skills to program bots that can navigate and map a room.

Lectures: Instructors from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich walked us through key concepts in a series of web videos, including robotic locomotion and obstacle detection.

Homework: After each lecture, the instructors assigned a problem set covering the material and encouraged any overachievers to try additional exercises.

coding simulator
Coding simulator Courtesy EDX

Simulator: The additional exercises involved a downloadable simulator, which allowed us to control a virtual robot named Bob. We coded in MatLab and Octave to help Bob avoid obstacles in its virtual environment.

Office hours: If students got stuck, they could log in to an interactive forum that connects them directly to professors and study buddies around the world.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Popular Science_._