Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Addition to Quanser Engineering Team

Quanser recently welcomed a new addition to the engineering team: Adam Mitlyng joined us on a position of Mechanical Design Engineer.

Adam decided to be part of the engineering world as a teenager, in part because he was always curious about "how things work". His career path was set after visiting North Dakota State University, where he met with a number of professors and was intrigued by their labs.

After graduating from North Dakota State with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Adam joined MTS Systems Corporation, a leading supplier of servo-hydraulic test systems. While there, he spent most of his time focused on designing and building friction stir welding machinery.

When Adam decided to relocate to Canada, he was excited to find an opening at Quanser. The job seemed a perfect fit for his experience and interests. "The systems described on Quanser's website seemed exciting, fun and complex. I thought the team behind them must be very gifted and professional, and I wanted to be a part of it," he says.

As a member of the Mechatronics Group, Adam will be heavily involved with a new systems design, as well as with improving existing systems. One of his first tasks at Quanser was to make balance and assembly improvements to the 3 DOF Gyroscope.

In his free time, Adam listens to alternative rock music and enjoys traveling. He's visited Germany, Scotland and the Bahamas and would love to get to Ireland in the near future.

Adam quickly became a part of the Quanser team. He recently volunteered with the Earthquake competition for kids, hosted by Quanser and organized by Let's Talk Science.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dear Leonardo ...

Signore Leornardo da Vinci

c/o Casa de Medici
Florence Italy

Dear Leonardo:

I hope you are keeping well. I had heard through the grapevine that you have been busy with all sorts of crazy art and design projects. I can't wait to see the results.

I've now been in this new job for almost three weeks now and I thought I'd drop you a line and give you my first impressions. Overall, I've been crazy-busy. This is a pretty funky place with weird machines and devices coming out of every corner of the building … not too unlike your workshop I might add!

The work so far has been great. I've been immersed in some pretty lively and creative discussions on how best to present the technology to new customers and how best to help them modernize their teaching. It's a pretty daunting task. You and I had chatted many times about the aging curriculum and how tough it is to motivate students these days to think a bit beyond their textbooks and lectures.

The good news is, I really do think this company has some of the right stuff to make a real difference. A lot of the hardware is freakishly cool. Whether its haptics or autonomous vehicles or just really clever ideas to illustrate a complex control concept, there seems to be real undercurrent of creativity in the products. I also have been very impressed with the people here. Lots of talent and energy in all of the departments. Even the CFO seems like a decent sort!

At some point, we should catch up and chat a bit more about some of the projects I'm engaged in. I know you've been curious about all this new fangled InterWeb stuff. Maybe some of the work we have planned will finally get you off your seat and create a Facebook account LOL. BTW, when you finally do that, search on Tom Q Lee -- that's my company account. Later this year I'll also send you some stuff on the new curriculum work we're doing. That's one of the things that are really cool about products. Someone actually took the time to put some thought into how you teach with the machines. It makes all the difference in the world, I think.

Tomorrow, the family is heading to your neck of the woods. It's our twentieth wedding anniversary and we're going to whoop it up in style in Rome and the Amalfi coast. Too bad it's not closer to Florence. I would have loved to have stopped by. Oh well. We'll have to be satisfied with looking at some of your more recent work at a gallery.

Have a great summer and I'll be sure to write again. All the best,


P.S. Jacob says "Hi"

Quanser's Control Technology Takes Center Stage at Two Key Engineering Conferences

It's unusually quiet at Quanser headquarters in Markham today. There are some open spaces in our parking lot (usually hard to find!), a few vacant cubicles in the engineering, sales & marketing departments, and several empty chairs in the lunch room.

The reason? A number of Quanser people have flown to the West Coast to showcase Quanser-developed technology at two of the year's most important engineering conferences.

The first is the 2011 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE 2011) in Vancouver, BC, from June 26 to 29. Immediately following is the 2011 American Control Conference (ACC 2011) in San Francisco, from June 29 to July 1. Each conference has its own special focus and its own audience.

Where Leading Engineering Educators Meet
ASEE 2011 is a conference dedicated to all disciplines of engineering education. Attendees are engineering and technology education stakeholders such as deans, faculty members and students from engineering schools across North America as well as industry and government representatives.

A Showcase for Quanser Rotary Control Workstations
At Quanser's booth #323, our engineers will showcase some of the most popular experiments from Quanser's 'kitchen': the Rotary Control Collection, along with the course materials that come with the experiments. And if you hear some noise, that's probably a 2 DOF Helicopter, another experiment designed to captivate student and help them connect theory with the practical engineering.

Human vs Robot - Who Wins?
Delegates who visit the Innovation Hub (Booth #741, or simply follow the floor signs) will be in for a treat, because they will see interactive demonstrations of the Quanser Ground Vehicle Robot (QGV) prototype as it autonomously collects objects and avoids obstacles. But that's just for starters. They will also have an opportunity to take the controls and attempt to beat the mobile robot at its own game. Talk about "Man vs Machine"! Well, stop by on Monday, June 27 at 11am, 12pm, 2pm & 4pm or on Tuesday at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm (all PST).

Competing in the 21st Century - What Do the Experts Think?
What's an engineering conference without a feisty exchange of ideas? We expect plenty of interest and debate at a panel discussion we're taking part in, entitled "How Can Today's Engineers Successfully Compete?". Join your peers on June 28 between 2.30-4pm in the Conference Room #113.

Unveiling the Latest in Control Technology Research
ACC 2011 is the premier automatic control technical conference held in North America - and a key forum for researchers in control technology. It "brings industry and academia together to discuss the latest developments in the area of automatic control systems, from new control theories, to the advances in sensors and actuator technologies, and to new applications areas for automation."

Quanser's Control Technology Takes Center Stage
Quanser representatives will demonstrate the latest open architecture and customizable platforms for research in robotics, avionics and unmanned systems. Among the products on display at booth#5 will be the Denso 6-Axis Articulated Robot, the Omni Bundle and the HiQ and Motion Testbed.

What's New in Mechatronics
Two other activities are sure to intrigue delegates. First, there's the Mechatronics Workshop presented jointly by Maplesoft and Quanser. Entitled "Unified Mechatronic Framework for Research: Efficient High-Fidelity Modeling of Physical Systems & Mechatronic Design", it's devoted to the newest techniques and concepts for modern mechatronic design. Interested? We start on June 29 at 6pm, in the Golden Gate 6 Room of the Downtown San Francisco Hilton Hotel.

Human vs Robot - The Challenge Continues
Second, there's the Innovation Hub. Just as at the ASEE Conference, we expect a lot of interest from the researchers, just as our last year's Innovation Hub did:

As it turns out, the quiet at Quanser is deceptive. We are focused on creating considerable excitement at two of the most significant engineering education and research conferences in North America. You will hear much more about ASEE 2011 and ACC 2011 in upcoming blogs, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3 Superstars Join Quanser’s Business Development Team

Just a few weeks ago, to support engineering institutions more effectively, Quanser expanded its business development team to include three very talented individuals. From left to right in the picture, we are pleased to introduce Oliver, Hans and Pasha. They will all be working closely with the sales team under the guidance of Keith Blanchet, Director of Business Development.

Oliver Zhang is joining Quanser's Business Development Team in the position of Inside Sales Representative. He has a background in electrical engineering and more than five years of experience in a similar role with a major Canadian test equipment manufacturer. In his position at Quanser, Oliver will be working closely with Engineering Professors to help prepare lab proposals, organize web-demos and address key questions about lab development. Oliver’s friendly demeanor is truly contagious!

Hans Fernandez will be taking on the challenging role of Central and South America Channel Manager. He has worked extensively, in both technical and executive levels, with both channels and partners across the Latin America and Caribbean region. Furthermore, Hans has experience with electrical, electronic, and electromechanical systems along with sensors, actuators and remotely operated vehicles. In addition to English, Hans is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. His extensive business development experience, clarity of vision and leadership qualities will be of great help to our partners in the region.

Amirpasha Javid is coming on-board the Business Development Team as Quanser's first Application Engineer. In his past role within the Engineering department, he continuously demonstrated a strong ability to support and find creative solutions for customers. In his new role, Pasha will work closely with Professors to deliver technical web-demos, provide on-site training and support a range of market-driven initiatives.

Over the months and years to come, I’m sure you will get to know them and their unique skills better.

Oliver, Hans and Pasha - Welcome to the Familia!

Quanser's Workshop at the AIS 2011 Conference

Unmanned Vehicle Systems (UVS) are growing in popularity across a broad spectrum of applications in such fields as search and rescue, the military, mining, and environmental surveillance. Likewise, the UVS research community is growing and there is an increasing demand for novel hardware and software platforms on which to develop and test UVS algorithms and controllers.

The delegates at this year's Conference on Autonomous and Intelligent Systems (AIS 2011) in Burnaby, BC, will have an excellent opportunity to learn about Quanser's latest technologies for unmanned vehicle systems teaching and research. Cameron Fulford, Engineering Manager of Quanser's Systems & Control Group, will present these technologies and show them in action via 3D visualization at a workshop entitled Tools for Teaching Autonomous Unmanned Vehicle Systems on Wednesday, June 22 at 4.30 pm.

As part of the workshop, Cameron will review how Louisiana Tech University, Concordia University and the University of Regina have integrated autonomous unmanned systems into their teaching and research programs using this state-of-the-art rapid controls prototyping framework and open-architecture data acquisition hardware designed for unmanned systems. The workshop will also cover the basics of using QUARC, Quanser's real-time control software, which allows novice and advanced users alike to rapidly develop and deploy powerful, extensible systems using simple to use, open-architecture Simulink toolsets. More advanced comcepts will be introduced with a specific focus on tools for autonomous unmanned vehicle systems.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Engineering Supermodels

In my third year as an undergrad, I was fortunate to have taken a course in system simulation from a jazz musician trapped in an engineer's body. He later became my supervisor for my Master's degree. Most of my peers considered this course to be the proverbial "bird" course -- not very challenging and the material seemed a tad stale. For me, it was nothing short of an epiphany. Sometime during that course, my entire understanding of the engineering curriculum changed.

The most memorable part of this life changing experience is the realization that calculus exists for the sole purpose of modeling (pure math readers out there, please humor me). The rate of change (a derivative) fundamentally describes variation in the physical world and powerful tools allow you to literally integrate these change elements over any domain of interest. Of course this is a gross trivialization but in some sense, it's helpful to walk away from the trees and weedy bits and notice the sign that says Sir Isaac Newton National Forest.

In my past life, I was immersed in the world of engineering models. As part of the Maplesoft company, producers of the famous math tool Maple, and more recently, a full-blown physical modeling software tool called MapleSim, I explored a wide range of pedagogical avenues that stressed the importance of rich models for effective engineering.

Last week, Quanser engineer Dr. Derek Wight and I attended the Second Annual Summer Workshop on Educational Applications of MapleSim, held at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. Although the main focus for the meeting was the software aspect of modeling and engineering education, it was a very revealing experience now that I have Q colored glasses on as part of the Quanser team.

The modeling community, like any technical community, has its own comfort zone where people vigorously debate the virtues of this formulation technique or the hazards of that solver. But in the end it's still a model and by definition it's an abstraction of the real physical world. The real world is highly complex, non-linear, and often entirely unpredictable. We as engineers however, have to somehow get some understanding of this complexity and introduce measures to produce predictable, beneficial outcomes. The basic question of how can educators impart this dose of reality into the curriculum has plagued profs for decades. Last week, I got an entirely new perspective on this challenge part of a company that made its name on hardware.

The future direction of engineering education, and control education in particular, will inevitably depend on the effective interplay among the key ideas of mathematics, science, modeling, and experimentation. Quanser, along with key partners like Maplesoft, represent an unprecedented educational workflow that can help students deal with the emerging complexities of engineering systems. From initial concepts, to high fidelity virtual models, to realistic harware in the loop simulation and control, to ultimately imparting that elusive big picture of engineering design, we have an immense opportunity to bring true excitement, insight, and relevance into the curriculum. I really believe that we're on the verge of something truly important for the world and I'm sure you're going to hear a lot more about these ideas in the months to come.

My jazz musician supervisor was living proof that good things happen when you put two completely different schools of thought together. Seeing this philosophy play out as my past life converged with my present and future life at the workshop was truly music to my ears.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Unmanned Vehicle Systems Research at Quanser

The unmanned systems research at Quanser has not stopped with the introduction of the Unmanned Vehicle Systems Lab, a research and teaching platform already adopted by many universities around the world. Recently, our engineering team experimented with a new unmanned ground vehicle nicknamed QGV (with Q as in Quanser). QGV is a mobile robot equipped with a five degree-of-freedom articulated arm. The mobility of the vehicle, plus the dexterity of the arm enable the robot to reach remote and/or hazardous environments and to interact with its surroundings. The applications of such platforms include warehouse automation, search and rescue missions and land surveying , as well as military uses such as bomb and mine defusal and even combat tasks.

Unmanned vehicles can operate in two distinct modes. In the first mode, teleoperation, the vehicle is controlled by a human operator via a communication link. The operator receives feedback from on-board sensors and sends the appropriate commands back to the vehicle. In the second mode, the vehicle acts as an autonomous robot and chooses commands based on the collected sensory information, using control algorithm running on the vehicle.

To demonstrate the abilities of the Quanser Unmanned Ground Vehicle, the robot is programmed to perform a search and object collection mission. Sensors on-board, including a camera and infra-red range sensors, are utilized to scan the environment for the target objects, while avoiding colliding with the perimeters as well as the obstacles. After finding the specific colored object, the vehicle approaches it and attempts to pick it up, using the articulated arm on the vehicle. Infra-red sensors are used to measure the distance between the vehicle and the target in order to place the arm in the right position. The target is then collected and the vehicle moves on to the next target of the specified color.

Watch a short demo here and visit Quanser's Innovation Hub at ASEE 2011 and ACC 2011 conferences to see it live.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From the desk of the new guy … Tom Lee, Chief Education Officer

The Quanser office, on a good day, is a ninety minute drive, each way, from my home in Waterloo, Canada.

As recently as three weeks ago, I had a dream job working with a hundred and twenty talented professionals at the renowned software company, Maplesoft.

About two months ago, I told my wife Sharon that I had decided to leave my dream job (which I had held for over twenty years BTW) to join this other company that she had never heard of. Her response was understandably "So why are you doing this?".

I am 48 years old I have two wonderful children, Eric (fifteen) and Maddi™ (thirteen). My wife Sharon holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy. Her dissertation was on the topic of rights of children to education. At last count, I have visited 433 distinct places in the world. From this, it's easy to see how some of the bigger questions in life begin to haunt my day to day existence. "What is this world going to be like when my kids get older?", "Have I done enough on this planet?", and "If I care so much about the world, why do I keep voting center-right?".

I'm thrilled to have been a part of some pretty amazing journeys so far. In my previous job, I witnessed how a company and a technology fundamentally transformed how mathematics is done in the 21st Century. I am a member of the faculty of a university that was unknown not 70 years ago but today is one of the engines of engineering research innovation. I like to think that some of my past work has made some modest contributions in the global engineering context. And most importantly, I have seen my own passions for one thing or another positively influence my kids' lives and I think I am getting a little closer to answering the question, "Have I been a good father?".

I am thrilled that I have been invited to this next transformational journey. Engineering education has held a very special place in my consciousness, or maybe conscience, since my days as a struggling undergraduate student.

I have known Quanser founder, my friend Dr. Jacob Apkarian, for over a decade. I have always admired his unique combination of engineering bravado and a deeply rooted passion for improving the state of modern engineering education. And, he's a pretty funny guy. Earlier in April, I bumped into him at the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis and we chatted for a long, long, long time about life, the universe, and data acquisition.

So after a long pause, my wife asked me again, "So why are you doing this?". I answered, "You know? I think it'll be fun working with Jacob."

This is going to be one hell of a ride.

Quanser focused on collaboration and long term solutions

Quanser is commited to working closely with academia to develop individual projects and support long-term goals. Our involvement with the Advanced Visualization Laboratory project at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is a recent example of this commitment.

The Advanced Visualization Lab is a state-of-the-art digital facility that allows researchers from engineering, science and liberal arts to convert large amounts of data into visuals on large-scale and high resolution visualization walls (VisWalls) or other display devices. As an unusually immersive visual experience, the Advanced Visualization Lab allows researchers to better understand and experience complex phenomena.

Two years ago, Quanser and Brent Nowak, UTSA Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering were having a discussion about Quanser’s HD2 high definition haptic device and the major role it could play in expanding the possibilities of the Advanced Visualization Lab that UTSA was then starting to develop.

The UTSA laboratory features a 14.5-foot-wide by six-foot-tall visualization wall—a 98 Mpixel tiled display of two dozen 30” widescreen monitors, with each monitor offering twice as many pixels as a high definition television. Image courtesy of the University of Texas, San Antonio.

“The Lab’s visualization wall lets us analyze large amounts of data, and zoom in and out to observe a subject such as simulated medical surgery in incredible detail,” says Nowak. “But we also wanted to increase the Lab’s capability by adding a high definition haptic device that could be integrated with both the VisWall and a very large (82”) 3D television monitor, so researchers could‘touch and feel’ the digital models they created in the course of their research.”

Quanser’s HD2 haptic device provides six degrees of freedom motion and five degrees of freedom force/torque feedback, making it an ideal tool to practice surgical simulations and other techniques.Future lab projects include multi-scale modeling for computational biology and biomedicine, development of cancer surgical simulation and real-time monitoring systems, and design and performance of autonomous underwater vehicles, to name a few.

Quanser’s strong reputation was a major factor the partnership with UTSA, according to Nowak. “We wanted to collaborate with Quanser because of its overall reputation for quality—the quality of its hardware and software products, and its ability to integrate its products with new technology like ours. We knew its engineers and consultants could be counted on to work closely with us and support our efforts to break new ground. That’s incredibly exciting and energizing.”

The Quanser - UTSA collaboration is ongoing. Right now, our engineers are working with UTSA to integrate the HD2 haptic device into the lab's Linux environment. Derek Wight and Pasha Javid continue to work at both Quanser headquarters in Markham and onsite in San Antonio, to assist the Advanced Visualization Lab in realizing its full potential.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Exciting Young Students about Science and Engineering

At Quanser our goal is to motivate, captivate and educate students about engineering sciences. But why wait until kids reach university age to get them stoked about science? When the opportunity arises, we reach out to younger students as well.

Recently Herve Lacheray, Quanser’s Software Manager volunteered as a judge in the All Science Challenge (ASC) at York University in Toronto. Presented by Let’s Talk Science, the All Science Challenge is an exciting question and answer competition for Grades 6, 7 and 8 student teams. It takes place annually on university campuses across Canada in May.

The young participants were well-prepared. For at least two months they’d worked in teams of four to study a broad range of science topics in the All Science Challenge Handbook, from which all the questions were taken. On event day the competition was divided into four parts. Two extensive question and answer quizzes were followed by an intriguing Design Challenge - building a shock-absorbing container that would protect an egg from breaking when dropped. The top three scoring teams entered a Final Elimination Round of questions and answers.

The day was a great success for all involved, not just the winning team. At York on this day, the participation of girls was particularly high, demonstrating (if it still needed to) that science isn’t a “boys club” anymore. That’s good news for future science enrollment at universities. So was the enthusiastic participation by the young contestants. “The kids were very enthusiastic,” Herve noted. “You could see that they had studied hard. It was a pleasure to be a part of it all.”

On May 30th Quanser participated in a second, highly engaging All Science Challenge event, this time at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Our volunteer judges on that day were Fayez Khan, R & D Engineer, and Don Nguyen, Production Technician.

We take great pride in helping schools excite students about science and fully expect a few of these girls and boys will soon be studying engineering at the university level. Chances are, some Quanser course materials and educational experiments will be part of their studies then as well.

To check out the ASC event at York University, watch this video: