System Design Project Home Page


The System Design Project is a Semester 2 module and is a group project involving construction of an item of significant complexity under conditions designed to give insights into industrial teamwork.

It is a 20 credit course with design, construction and assessment through the semester, ending in a demonstration day with industry visitors.

More detail about the course and how it will run this year are in these slides from the introductory lecture held in semester 1 Professional Issues.

The Project

This year's task is to use Lego and an Arduino to design an assistive robotic device, with an appropriate software interface.

You will have some flexibility to set your own goals for this task, but here is an example of what you could attempt: a person indicates an object on the floor with a laser pointer, and the robot picks it up and returns it to the person.

On the final day, your systems will be demonstrated to external judges, who will be asked to assess whether they would consider investing in your group and the technology you have developed.


The class is assigned to groups of 7 or 8, each responsible for the development of a single robot. Assessment involves group marks for product (performance and documentation of the robot systems). Individual marks will then be adjusted for process (how each team member contributed), see details below.

Each group will have an assigned mentor, with whom they meet around once a week, and who offers advice and monitors progress, but - importantly - does not lead or manage the group. Advice on how the group should organise themselves for good project management will be provided. Problems within the group should first be brought to the attention of your mentor; if you have an issue with your mentor, you should bring this to the attention of the SDP TA (see below).

The assigment to groups and mentors is available here.


Assessment of the group will be based on the following elements (follow links for further details):

Individual scaling of the group mark will be applied to reflect significantly above or below average contributions, informed by the individual process reports and feedback from your fellow group members and mentor.

Timetable 2018

Unless otherwise indicated, the work of SDP, including client demonstrations, will take place in the dedicated SDP labs in Appleton Tower. Other events associated with the course will take place in the locations indicated. Note that guest lectures will generally be in Lecture Theatre B in the David Hume Tower at 11am on Wednesdays.

Date Location Event
Monday January 15th (afternoon) 13:30 - 16:00 IF atrium and G.07 Opening session - week one guide
Tuesday January 16th AT level 3 Kit handout and introduction to the SDP space - timetable
Wednesday January 17th 11:00 DHT Lecture Theatre B Guest lecture: Chris Paton, Amazon
Ship It -- Stories about trying to deliver the right software
Writing code is fun, but how do you work out what code to write in the first place?
And how do you organise a group of people to write code together without it becoming a mess?
Chris Paton took the System Design Project 12 years ago and is now a Senior Software
Engineer at Amazon. In this talk he'll discuss some experiences on this journey so that you can
learn from his mistakes, both during SDP and in your future career.
Wednesday January 17th 12:00 AT Lecture Theatre 2 Guest lecture: Mike McQuaid, GitHub
Working with others using Git and GitHub
Wednesday 17th January 14:00 AT level 3 Robot building workshop
Thursday 18th January 13:00 & 15:00 AT level 3 Software development on EV3 and Arduino workshops
Friday 19th January 9:00 One static slide for your pitch in .ppt format emailed to James Garforth
Friday 19th January 14:00 IF G.07 Project pitches - general feedback
Friday 19th January 15:30 IF G.07 Client feedback on pitch
Wednesday January 24th 11:00 DHT Lecture Theatre B Guest lecture: Ewa Luger, Design Informatics
Ethical AI
The proliferation of artificial intelligence in our everyday life has raised a range of moral issues.
We need only look to the media to be faced with questions such as:
will AI systems come to replace more sophisticated human functions?
Will they be able to convince us they are human and, will they end humanity altogether?
Irrespective of whether one chooses to believe such things possible, we cannot escape the reality
that algorithms increasingly influence much of our endeavour. As we strive to get ever closer
to the goal of general AI, a set of core issues emerge, each of which challenges what it is to
responsibly research and innovate in this fast-moving sphere. This lecture will explore some
of the practical ethical questions currently under debate in respect of machine intelligence,
describe ethics and their role in helping us navigate the muddy moral waters of the human-AI
condition, and consider the core ethical dilemmas facing system designers as we progress.
Friday January 26th 16:00 deadline submit project plan
Wednesday January 31st 16:30 IF G.07 Guest Lecture : Mauro Dragone, Heriot-Watt University
Robotics for Independent Living and
The European Robotics League Service Robotics Challenge
Enabling robots to seamlessly operate as part of Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) smart
spaces is an important and extended challenge for robotics R and D. In this talk I will provide
an overview of research in the area and present the newly built Robotic Assisted Living
Laboratory hosted at the Lyell Centre at the Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh campus. The
laboratory provides a Living Lab home environment where roboticists and computer scientists,
and also usability and health experts, psychologists, and sociologists, can work alongside people
with assisted living needs and those supporting them, to co-design and test innovative solutions
for healthy ageing and assisted living.
I will conclude by illustrating the European Robotics League Service Robot competition. The
competition offers a unique opportunity to break down real-work challenges into a competition
similar to the UEFA Champions League. I will present results of the first competition that have
just been hosted by the laboratory at Heriot-Watt University.

Wednesday February 7th 9:00 -- 13:00

group allocations

AT Level 3 First client demonstration -
Wednesday February 14th 11:00 DHT Lecture Theatre B Guest lecture: Ram Ramamoorthy, School of Informatics and FiveAI
Driving Autonomy -- Level 4 Autonomy as a System Design Project
Autonomous driving is rapidly emerging as a technology trend that has the potential to
literally change our roads and cities. Achieving this amidst the chaos that is the typical
urban road is also the ultimate system design project for engineers involved in the many
companies involved in this space. In this talk, Subramanian Ramamoorthy will talk about
how the team at FiveAI are approaching this problem, and what lessons he has learnt from
being involved in a fast-growing start-up company.
Wednesday February 28th 9:00 -- 13:00 (slots to be allocated) AT Level 3 Second client demonstration -
Wednesday March 7th 11:00 DHT Lecture Theatre B Guest lecture: Bridget Khursheed, KAL
Software documentation
For software engineers being able to communicate effectively is more important than ever:
from conveying your ideas to your team members in code development and in other disciplines,
such as quality, to convincing end users you have a viable product (for example if you are
selling and supporting a mobile app). In this lecture, we will discuss what makes good software
documentation by examining doc types and what they do, along with user types and usability
testing. We will then focus on how to document your own software: both internally for example
when working with fellow engineers, testers and authors; and externally whether documenting
your API on GitHub, selling a new app or supporting established software.
Wednesday March 14th 9:00 -- 13:00 (slots to be allocated) AT Level 3 Third client demonstration -
Friday March 23rd 16:00 deadline submit user guide
Wednesday March 28th 11:00 DHT Lecture Theatre B Guest lecturer: Rebecca Valentine, Careers Service
Guest lecturer: Harrison Gilmore, Skyscanner
SDP experience in your job career
Rebecca is the Careers Consultant for students in the School of Informatics.
She helps you make the most of your time at the University of Edinburgh and she supports you
with planning your next steps including help with applications and interviews for internships
and graduate jobs. During the session she will cover:
  • What you did well and some of the challenges you faced in the course
  • Some of the skills you've developed as a result
  • Why this matters: Some employer feedback
  • Some examples of questions from job applications and interviews
  • Tips for selling your experiences from the course
  • Some suggestions for things you can do next
  • How the Careers Service can help you
Harrison is a Data Scientist turned Product Manager at Skyscanner.
He was a student in the Informatics department and he took SDP back in 2008. He will discuss his
career to date and the lessons he learned from SDP. Some points of his talk:
  • Software is built by teams, almost without exception.
  • Your ability to work in teams strongly correlates with your career trajectory.
  • He was the project manager of his team and they got a C for management.
    It's basically his job now. What he learned from that experience.
Thursday April 5th 9:00 -- 17:00 AT Level 3 Final client demonstrations
Friday April 6th 9:00 -- 17:30 IF G.17 and AT level 3 Final day event:
  • Judges, including industry guests, will attend and assess the projects from the point of view of potential investors
  • All day Trade Fair in G.17 also open to Informatics staff and students
  • Demonstration and pitches to judges in AT3 - timetable
  • Lunch provided in Atrium
  • Feedback and prizes: 17:00-17:30
Wednesday April 18th 16:00 deadline submit technical report and individual report

Key information


The System Design Project team

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