Wireless-integrated embedded real-time control: A case study in adopting resources for development of a low-cost interdisciplinary laboratory project

Paul G Flikkema, Kenji Ryan Yamamoto, Carol Haden, Jeff Frolik, Tom Weller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the last decade, it has become apparent that the grand challenge problems of this century span disciplines. In spite of this, engineering curricula are still strongly stovepiped, even within each engineering discipline, and both inertia and downward budget pressures encourage curricular conservatism. At the same time, the need is urgent to expose students to the diversity and complexity of real-world problems where there is no "best" solution. How should we help students learn across disciplines and blend disciplinary knowledge to solve problems? This paper describes a laboratory project suitable for courses in areas of control and embedded systems that weaves critical aspects of control systems design with real-time embedded systems hardware and software, and along the way incorporates additional skills and tools. The project builds on previous efforts that have used the classic "ball-in-tube" experimental platform. We have developed an extremely low-cost experimental platform that student teams assemble from simple parts (e.g., shoeboxes and muffin fans), and that uses wireless communication between the real-time platform and a personal computer that provides a human interface and analytical tools. For real-time data acquisition and control, we adopted the CLIO platform that was designed for the experiential component of MUSE (Multi-University Systems Education, www.uvm.edu/~muse), an NSF-sponsored pedagogical effort to increase the ability of students to become conversant in skills related to systems thinking. In this spirit, the work discussed herein exposes students to experimentation, modeling and design across system layers. While tackling the project, students have also become more adept at (i) architecting distributed applications that integrate embedded and desktop computing systems, (ii) data acquisition, including measurement noise and signal conditioning, (iii) actuation, including motor control, and (iv) wireless communication. We present early assessment results evaluating how effectively the project helps students build critical systems-thinking skills, and the challenges of adopting resources for fast-tracking the development of new laboratory projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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