Autonomous Systems Engineering

Graduate course, Duke University, Pratt School of Engineering, 2020

ME 555 / ECE 590 / EGRMGMT 590: Autonomous Systems Engineering is for ambitious junior, senior, masters, and PhD students in mechanical engineering, electrical / computer engineering, and engineering management. This course fosters an inclusive and accessible learning environment. Students learn how to design and manage real-world operations in industries that integrate robotics and artificial intelligence in human-machine systems. Lessons include work with industry client, guest lectures, case studies, paired problem solving, and test & evaluation plans.


  • Understand how the fundamental components of an autonomous system (physical system, perception and sensing, planning and control) contribute to an integrated system.

  • Understand how fundamental concepts from fields such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and human robot interaction relate to autonomous systems engineering.

  • Apply systems engineering tools (e.g., stakeholder identification, requirements development, robust design principles) to realistic systems.

  • Identify areas that could be served by modeling and simulation, and identify the associated benefits and limitations.

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses in the design of different autonomous systems.

  • Develop and review a test and evaluation plan for an autonomous systems.

  • Understand the social, legal, and policy challenges associated with the design and introduction of autonomous systems.


Student learning is assessed based on preparation, participation, and presentation in class.

  • Class participation: 10%

  • Case Study presentation: 10%

  • Midterm: 20%

  • Project: 40%

  • Project evaluation: 20%


  1. Class participation is the student’s combined effort in being prepared (completing readings and activities prior to each class period), asking questions, and sharing your own reflections. Assessed over the course of the semester.

  2. By the end of the semester, each student pair is expected to have presented an original case study on an autonomous system that is in research, development, deployment, operation, or retirement. It can be in any stage of the systems engineering lifecycle but there should be sufficient information in the public domain to allow each pair to research and present a critical analysis of the methods, results, directions as well as strengths and weaknesses of the autonomous system. Due during one class period this semester.

  3. The midterm exam is a test of how well students understand the fundamental components of an autonomous system, how to apply systems engineering tools to autonomous systems, and how well students work together as pairs in communicating learning. This will be open-book, open-Internet, and students can consult with their partner. Due Wednesday, March 4, 2020.

  4. The project is a real-world assignment from a company with a real-world problem. This is an opportunity to learn how to listen intently, ask insightful questions, develop solutions, solicit requirements, and develop a test plan to evaluate how well the design of autonomous systems meet client needs. About 75% of this work will culminate in a written report while 25% will be communicated in person through an executive summary-style presentation to the client. Due Friday, April 17, 2020.

  5. Finally, the fun part. Each student will get to evaluate another pair’s project by writing a comprehensive and constructive analysis on their written report and presentation. Due Monday, April 27, 2020.


All texts used in class shall be accessible to students.

  • How to guide to systems engineering: by International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, and Stevens Institute of Technology
  • How to plan for test and evaluation of autonomous systems: Better Embedded System Software by Philip Koopman (2010) available at Duke Libraries
  • How to engineer systems with humans in mind: An Introduction to Human Factors Engineering by Lee, Wickens Liu, & Boyle (2017) available at Duke Libraries

Campus Resources

Students are encouraged to make the best use of being at Duke:

  1. Librarian, Sarah Park:
  2. Presentations:
  3. Papers:
  4. Accommodations - formal requests due March 16, 2020:
  5. Academic Resource Center for consultants, tutors, and specialists:
  6. Teaching Assistant and Professor


0Introductions, Backgrounds & Methods
1What is Systems Engineering?
2How does Autonomy Change Systems Engineering?
3Autonomous Systems Engineering Approaches
4Defining the Problem
5Generating Concepts
6Developing Concepts of Operations (CONOPS)
7Defining Human-System Requirements
8Verifying Human-System Requirements
9Designing Human-System Elements
10Implementing & Acquiring Elements
11Verifying Implemented Elements
12Integrating Subsystems
13Integrating & Verifying the Human-System
14Verifying Pair Project Progress [Midterm]
15Guest Lecturer TBA from Duke Cultural Anthropology on Socio-technical Considerations of Autonomous Systems
16Guest Lecturer TBA from Duke Robotics on Modeling Autonomous Systems
17Guest Lecturer TBA from Duke Statistical Science on Designing Experiments
18Guest Lecturer TBA from North Carolina Department of Transportation on Public Policy Implications of Unmanned Vehicles
19Guest Lecturer TBA from Durham County on Managing Emergency Air and Ground Transport Systems
20Guest Lecturer TBA from Uber Advanced Technologies Group on Systems Engineering at Scale
21Guest Lecturer TBA from SAS on Communicating Engineering
22Guest Lecturer TBA from Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing on Innovating Engineering in Material Handling
23Guest Lecturer TBA from LCI Tech on Designing Accessible Warehouse Automation Interfaces to Enable Future Workforce
24Presenting Autonomous Systems Engineering Solutions to TBA from Durham Coca-Cola Bottling Company [Project]
25Presenting Autonomous Systems Engineering Solutions to TBA from Durham Coca-Cola Bottling Company [Project]