Friday, August 24, 2012

What Happens in Austin… Gets Posted on a Blog…

Every year, National Instruments (NI) call upon the engineers of the world to gather and celebrate the achievements and potential of engineering, and to honor and perpetuate nerd culture, and to do justice to the folksy mantra, “Keep Austin Weird!”  This annual phenomenon is, of course, NI Week. Quanser has been a long time strategic partner of NI and this year, with no exaggeration, our experience at NI Week 2012 held in August, was the best ever.

Unlike the more scholarly engineering conferences, NI Week is unabashedly festive in tone. Yes, there are plenty of technical sessions where attendees get updates on the latest esoteric tips and tricks on data acquisition. But the true highlights of the conference often erupt during the plenary sessions or even on the exhibits floor. There people have a chance to congregate and channel their “inner Thomas Edison” in a single location.  Quite often, magic seems to happen.

Control visionary Dr. Mark Spong drops by the Quanser Booth during NIWEEK 2012.
This year we showcased several important milestones. The most strategic was the announcement and demonstration of two new exciting products: the Quanser Q1-cRIO DAQ module for the NI Compact RIO platform, and the Quanser Rapid Control Prototyping (RCP) Toolkit software for LabVIEW™. Collectively these products streamline the deployment of even the most ambitious control systems application a lot easier. In their respective ways, these two new products take care of a lot of the cumbersome wiring and I/O software housekeeping that curse most users.

The Quanser Q1-cRIO DAQ module for the NI CompactRIO platform ensures simpler interfacing and faster connectivity. They help students work more efficiently
and focus on learning.
cRIO and LabVIEW have always been excellent tools for a wide range of control systems work but the Q1-cRIO and RCP Toolkit make the NI platform truly complete. In many ways, the combination of NI’s traditional DAQ and instrumentation product line and Quanser’s control-centric product line collectively comprise a market-leading, end-to-end solution for modern control systems education and research.
Above: a closed loop controller developed with the Quanser RCP Toolkit. 
This clear visualization bridges the gap between theory and practice and
helps students grasp concepts better.
As important and strategic as these product launches were, the real fun was our presentation of the Quanser Driving Simulator (QDS). We debuted this innovative approach to undergrad control lab experiences earlier this year at the ASEE conference. We reprised this concept as part of the NI Week Academic Forum “sub-conference”. Additionally, we were invited to present and demonstrate QDS as part of the keynote presentation for the Academic Forum.

The tech conference keynote … we’ve all seen iconic footage of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates standing atop a big stage, and with great fanfare, usher in a new vision of one thing or another with huge hyperbolic promises and a jaw-dropping demo. I wasn’t exactly Steve or Bill unfortunately… I look terrible in a turtleneck, and our demo actually worked… but it’s about as close to that as I have ever been. Ably assisted by Quanser “demo jock” Peter Martin, we did our best techno-samba on stage.
On stage at the Academic Forum during NIWEEK 2012: Dave Wilson, NI's Director of Academic Programs; Tom Lee, Quanser's Chief Education Officer; and (partially hidden)
Peter Martin, Quanser's  demo jock and "Human-In-The-Loop", demonstrating
the Quanser Driving Simulator.
Dave Wilson, NI’s Director of Academic Programs and the principal speaker for the keynote, proclaimed “We nailed it!”. Translation: all the demos worked, all the key points were made, the audience laughed at the jokes, even the bad ones, and most importantly, the audience got it.

NI President, CEO and Co-founder Dr. James Truchard experiences the Quanser Driving Simulator for himself. Next to him is Quanser Chief Technology Officer and Founder Dr. Jacob Apkarian.

The Quanser message was in many ways a profound statement of what can be done in education with some cleverness and the right tools. The QDS pedagogy introduces a dynamic, motivating application layer persistently through all of the labs in a given course sequence. In this sense, it’s easier for students to relate abstract concepts to the real world and to connect ideas to each other. As an added bonus, the QDS introduces students to the critically important techniques of Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) testing, which have revolutionized modern advanced industry. Unfortunately, as important as HIL is, the conventional curriculum has yet to reconcile the new with the old. QDS offers an efficient path to achieving this.

In 2009, while I was still with Maplesoft, I had the pleasure to be on stage in Austin (ASEE was held there that year), with the then-young Keith Blanchet, Quanser’s Director of Business Development. That was the first time that I had collaborated on a presentation with this weird company called Quanser. You can read the account here. 

A well-seasoned Keith Blanchet impresses some young engineers
with his technological and educational wisdom.
That collaboration actually triggered my interest and eventual explorations into the complex relationships between the physical world and the theoretical world and this exploration lead me to my current job—and back to Austin. If you read between the lines of my previous post, there was a very strong “prescriptive” dimension, i.e., if we do this, the world would be better. Fast forward to last week, when I got the real sense that my words on stage this time around were fundamentally “descriptive”, i.e., we HAVE achieved this and we can see the changes happening.  I’ve been and continue to be very impressed with Quanser and its vision and focus on wildly imaginative yet practical ways to enrich modern education.

  - Tom Lee
As Chief Education Officer at Quanser, Tom Lee is focused on spearheading the development of Quanser's global academic community. He is closely involved with Quanser's technology and solution development process and the company's partner and alliance programs. He holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, and an MASc and BASc in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

QUARC® Helps Researchers Bridge The Language Barrier and Grow

If you’re a MATLAB®/Simulink® user who is considering upgrading your research lab, it may be prudent to take some time to thoroughly review your short term and long term project goals. What is the state of your lab right now?  Are students engaged, motivated and excited about your lab? Where do you want it to be in the future?

Quanser’s experiments could definitely be part of a modular, incremental, budget-friendly solution.  But don’t overlook another valuable building block to accelerating your research and moving it forward: Quanser’s QUARC® control design software. QUARC works seamlessly with MATLAB/Simulink and offers you deep capabilities that are rarely fully exploited. 
Professor Aman Behal of the University of Central Florida's Electrical Engineering Department is a case in point. He took advantage of QUARC's Rapid Control Prototyping capability to save programmers months of development time because it bridges the gap between your simulations developed in MATLAB/Simulink and the real-time controller required to drive real hardware.

 Dr. Behal and his research assistant found that QUARC control software's ability to link
"incompatible" programming languages saved them many months of costly development time.
Because QUARC proved such a timesaver for Professor Behal, he began to consider how some of Quanser’s other building blocks – hardware such as the Rotary Servo systems – can be utilized in his other capacity as a teacher.

For more details on Professor Behal’s experience with Quanser and with QUARC, click here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Better the Lab, the Better the Student

When Professor Kelly Cohen joined the University of Cincinnati’s Aerospace Engineering Department, his goal was to attract better students and ultimately, better researchers. The key, he felt, was to ensure his lab had new, hands-on equipment that he and his students could count on.  He found Quanser’s experiments fit the bill exactly. 
One of the Quanser experiments in Professor Cohen's lab is the 2 DOF Helicopter.
This is just one of the hands-on controls experiments that is attracting better students
 to the University of Cincinnati's Aerospace Enginineering program.

They excited his students because the hands-on approach helped them grasp control concepts quicker.  In addition, since Quanser’s solutions were turn-key, Professor Cohen was able to get his lab up and running quickly.  The equipment's modular design gave the lab real flexibility to teach multiple experiments. He soon planned on choosing more modules to add even more depth to his teaching and research lab. Everybody won as Professor Cohen built his lab, his students deepened their understanding of control concepts and, inevitably, the quality of his available researchers increased.

To find out more about Professor Cohen's lab and how it assists his efforts to attract better researchers, click here.

A Simple Way To Build The Ideal Lab

With fall classes about to begin in a few short weeks, many controls professors are thinking about ways to update their labs to make the coming year’s teaching and learning experience a rewarding experience for their students as well as themselves.

A simple, effective and efficient solution professors and faculty administrators can really appreciate is Quanser’s unique “building blocks” approach to lab development.  Watch as Tom Lee, Quanser’s Chief Education Officer, demonstrates this incremental approach using Quanser’s Rotary Servo family of modules and experiments.

If you already have some elements of this lab, you’ll see how easy it is to continue to build it and enrich your students’ learning experiences.  If you are just starting to build your lab, Tom’s presentation will show you that the incremental building block approach is a sure way to build a “dream” lab of your own.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Using NI LabVIEW™? Teaching Controls? We May Have A Dream Lab for You.

Building the dream lab you've always wanted is now a practical, achievable goal.
Quanser and National Instruments have teamed up to deliver a turn-key platform for controls education that delivers what many engineering educators would call a “dream lab”.
It’s a “dream” because it brings controls theory to life, fully aligns with your course syllabus, and prepares students to be effective controls engineers once they graduate into the working world.

Hardware, software, courseware - it's all here to help advance teaching and research
This one-of-a-kind, turn-key platform helps high-achieving, budget-conscious professors keep students engaged with their studies, while allowing time to concentrate on research. How? By providing the following: 
Compatibility with Existing Software.  This platform was designed by Quanser and National Instruments specifically for LabVIEW users. It features the Quanser Rapid Controls Prototyping Toolkit, which allows students to easily interface with over 85 control, mechatronics or robotics experiments from Quanser.

Modular Design.  One of the most popular, flexible and modular systems built on this platform is the Quanser rotary servo workstation, designed for teaching the fundamentals of control.  With over 30 labs to choose from, it allows professors to evolve their lab and teach concepts from the most fundamental to the most advanced.
Pays For Itself.  This lab platform allows professors to teach control fundamentals and do research.  This multitasking capability makes it remarkably cost-effective.

Watch the video and learn why this dream lab would be such a practical choice for your teaching and research needs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why We Ride, Why We Work

There’s a world of reasons to gather a group of dedicated, socially aware individuals and create a team to Ride to Conquer Cancer.  There’s also a world of reasons to assemble a group of dedicated, global-focused colleagues to create a team to help ensure more and better engineering.

Believe it or not, those reasons can be one and the same: the well-being of our families, friends, neighbours – and of the world we live in.
All those goals came together in June as Quanser CEO Paul Gilbert and his “Team Painkiller” teammates mounted their bikes and completed the 200 Kilometer Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.  Pedaling from Toronto to Niagara over two days, they raised almost $40,000 to benefit the Campbell Cancer Institute at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, and the whole ride raised just over $18 million.

A great cause - cancer research - deserves a great effort. Here are a few tired but happy
Team Painkiller members at the end of Day One in Hamilton, Ontario. 

As noted in an earlier blog post, Paul and his teammates trained rigorously for the Ride.  A number of personal objectives spurred him on, including the wish to get in better physical shape, and the desire to set an example to his children to be socially aware. 
Paul sees a strong connection between encouraging increased research on curing cancer and Quanser’s corporate goal: to help educate talented global engineers who will tackle engineering’s grand challenges and, ultimately, engineer a better world.

To tell you more about the Ride experience, here’s Paul in his own words:
"Last Christmas, after I publicly announced my intention to ride during the Christmas period, I could not believe the support I immediately received from family, friends and acquaintances. I pretty much met my personal fund raising goals in the first month. I also asked a few Quanser vendors for sponsorship support and got so much feedback that we ran out of spaces on the riding jersey very quickly. A hearty thanks to all of you who donated and forced my hand, or should I say my legs, since receiving so much money for the cause meant I had no chance of backing out.

The build-up to the ride was intense, many hours of training in all weather conditions allowed the Painkiller Team to really bond, and this shared experience was really helpful on the weekend of the Ride. A long ride like this is physically and mentally challenging, so to have good friends nearby at moments of weakness was invaluable, especially during some long arduous climbs.
Anyone who has done this ride knows about the final seven kilometer ascent to the campground in Hamilton at the end of the first day—to do it in a torrential downpour was something I wouldn't wish on a living soul. However, shortly after we arrived, ironically in glorious sunshine with steam coming off our backs, we went directly to the oasis, that is, to free beer and massage tents. At this point we were euphoric. Day One was over and there was only 100 kilometers left to go the next day.

Team Painkiller completed the Ride and raised $40,000 for cancer research.
 Members of the team gather at the end of the Ride and Day Two in Niagara. 
Quanser CEO Paul Gilbert is standing in the first row at far left.
Almost 5,000 people gathered to share stories of the first day’s ride and enjoy the food and entertainment. It’s hard to describe how it feels to be amongst so many people who have given so much of themselves. Suffice it to say, it was a great crowd. We shared tears of laughter and the occasional howl of pain as cramping started to kick in.

Day Two was hot and sweaty, 40 degrees Celsius for the most part, and it took a good 20 kilometers of riding to warm our muscles up; oh my lord, it was hard. We stopped for a rest every 20 or 25 kilometers and received supplies to keep us going. Probably the best moment of the weekend was when someone decided to dump a bucket of ice cold water over my head.

Paul Gilbert and his wife Joanne at Ride's end, by the Niagara River and Niagara Falls.
The final 20 kilometers were very uplifting and emotional.  To give you an idea, the whole team decided to bike as a group, ending the Ride going past the finish line two by two with two cancer survivors in the front , and an enormous cheering crowd all around. All the pain of the training and ride disappeared at that moment. I can honestly say the Ride is one of the top things I have ever done in my life and, yes, I am signed up to do it again next year."