Thursday, September 20, 2012

Real-World Lab Simulations Can "Drive" Students To Success

What happened when Quanser took some of its traditional, time-tested, controls equipment and added a new, motivating application layer of automotive driving simulation? It created a highly engaging controls application called the Quanser Driving Simulator (QDS). It’s like a video game on the surface, but underneath the QDS is a genuine Hardware-in-the-Loop engineering experience in an automotive design context. This is yet another new and creative path Quanser is exploring to engage students immediately and thoroughly. Watch as Quanser’s Chief Education Officer, Tom Lee, explains the QDS concept and a University of Toronto student describes her experience with it in class.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Set Your Research Up For Success

As a professor of engineering, some of the biggest demands on your time are preparing students to graduate with industry-ready engineering skills; and conducting innovative research in your area of expertise.

Versatile, cutting edge tools.  Wherever your interests lie, Quanser’s vast array of tools are designed to rapidly bridge the distance between theory and experiment. We provide mechatronics plants, modular systems and control design tools appropriate for research at all levels.  All are robust, reliable and built to perform.
Our systems consist of open architecture hardware you can use to test your theory while working within your existing lab.  Combined with that is Quanser’s QUARC real-time design software. It enables you to obtain accurate, repeatable results while saving remarkable amounts of research time. 

One such example is found in recent rehab work done by Professor Marcia O'Malley and her team from Rice University in Houston, Texas. To see how Professor O’Malley of Rice University established the promise of her R & D rehab project early on and secured additional funding by using cutting edge Quanser tools, click here.

The RiceWrist is a device designed to help rehabilitate people with spinal-cord injuries. 
Quanser’s rapid prototyping software and control hardware sped the
development of the RiceWrist. Speedy development was instrumental in the project establishing its validity and receiving additional funding. 
Photos courtesy of Prof. Marcia O'Malley
Over 20 years of expertise in controls at your disposal.  From research inception to completion, Quanser engineers are valuable resource persons you can lean on. They’re completely familiar with all our tools because they conceived and built them.  So when graduate students or lab assistants move on, you never lose the continuity of our support.
Our engineers can also aid in the research design or help you choose the components you require to build the best integrated rapid controls framework for your project. So whether it requires months or years, you can rely on Quanser’s ongoing support.
Semesters go by all too quickly and you need to make the most of the all-too-limited research resources available to you. To fully leverage those resources, you may wish to consider the tools, expertise and support available to you from Quanser.  It could be the best way to set up your research for success.

To discuss ways Quanser can help set up your research for success, contact us at

How Top Professors Help Their Students Get The Most Out of a Course

Any good controls professor can show his or her students how a controls experiment works.  But a great controls professor accomplishes much, much more. He or she helps their students see why that controls experiment is so valuable in the real world.

As you probably know, not all students come to their first controls class with a clear idea of why controls are so important. That’s why immediately identifying the importance of controls in sustaining our fast-paced daily lives should be one of the first goals of any controls professor.  Students who are presented with this results-oriented vision will then be ready to invest their time and energy in the task of learning the subject matter—simply because they’ll see the real-world applications that lie beyond the experiments and the theory.

These real-world applications are everywhere. They're found in DVD players and cars that parallel park themselves; in medical robotics and industrial production processes; and in all aspects of manned and unmanned flight, to name a few. The more your students are aware of these everyday applications, the more motivated they will be. These practical, real-life applications involve virtually every modern engineering discipline, including electrical, mechanical, biomedical, chemical, aerospace, unmanned systems, civil, robotics and mechatronics. Individually and collectively, they allow your students to engineer a better world.

No less a controls authority than Dr. Mark Spong agrees.  According to Dr. Spong, Dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering & Computer Science, University of Texas at Austin, “The 21st century will be known as the age of automatic control.”  He elaborates: “Most of the critical problems facing society today, in sustainable energy, healthcare, the environment, security, and other areas, will rely on control engineering for solutions.”

The same holds true in the purely industrial realm, notes Dr. Spong.  “Industry is more and more focusing on embedded controls and sensing.  In the automotive industry, everything is drive by wire now: brakes, engine control, everything is becoming mechatronic in that sense.”
By identifying the real-world significance of the study of controls for your class, you will be able to attract, keep and graduate more and better students. You’ll help them focus on clear, professional goals and motivate them to graduate with industry-ready skills. Now what professor wouldn’t want to get their students ready for opportunities like that?

To see how Dr. Spong worked with Quanser to connect the real world with control theory for his students, click here.

Five Things To Look For When Choosing Lab Equipment

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
     - Confucius (551 – 479 BCE)

These words of wisdom are as relevant today as they were 2500 years ago when they were first written. They reflect the most effective way to teach controls and create the ideal learning environment for your students, especially hands-on experimentation that bridges the gap between theory and practice. Adhering to the following guidelines will help you choose lab equipment wisely and ensure your learning environment will be the best it can be.
Your students will benefit when you provide them with the best possible learning environment.
Hands-on experimentation.  Look for experiments that are created expressly to help your students get practical experience in controls. As an example, our hands-on devices have captivated students for more than 20 years. Interacting with them, students learn fundamental concepts through their senses. This allows students to better assimilate theory and ultimately become creative and well-rounded engineering graduates.
Easy set up.  Setting up a control experiment or a complete lab should be simple and straightforward.  To that end, our labs consist of modular elements and include all the components and peripherals your students will need. Take Quanser's Rotary Servo Control Lab.  All of its available hands-on experiments are designed for quick, repeated assembly and disassembly. Plug and play connectors and provided cables allow students or lab technicians to make fast connections when setting up a control workstation. There is no need to strip wires or solder custom cables. The same is true for all Quanser experiments.
Our Rotary experiments alone you offer over 30 hands-on labs built around a Rotary Servo Base Unit (SRV02).  Nine experimental modules can be added on to the Rotary Servo Base Unit. So your control lab can consist of up to 10 different workstations, each featuring a different module to help students learn introductory, intermediate and advanced control concepts.
Building block courseware.  Another important consideration when choosing lab equipment is the availability of accompanying courseware to teach basic control topics in logical, progressive steps. With each experiment, Quanser provides an array of courseware that can include instructor workbooks, student workbooks, user manuals, laboratory guides and quick start guides. One hands-on experiment builds on another, so students can grasp concepts and then increase their knowledge a step at a time.
Our courseware is designed so you can use it to create your curriculum or supplement it. Either way, you’ll save valuable prep time and be able to spend your classroom hours working with your students at a high level.

A relentless focus on the real world.  We offer you hands-on experiments and building block courseware geared to connect your students to real-life engineering problems.  That's why our Rotary Pendulum experiment teaches classic self-balancing dynamics – the same controls problem that was faced by the inventor of the Segway electric vehicle. Our Rotary Flexible Link experiment introduces students to the kind of flexibility challenge presented to the engineers who designed the Canadarm Shuttle Remote Manipulator System. Our Rotary Gyro/Stable Platform experiment teaches your students about such real-world applications as space satellite orientation.  The list goes on.

Controls applications are crucial to the safe, efficient operation of modern transportation technology.
The Rotary Servo experiment teaches concepts integral to such high-precision applications as a CD-ROM drive.

Make the most of a Quanser - National Instruments campus visit. If you live and teach in North America, be sure to check out the National Instruments (NI) LabVIEW  Campus Tour should it come to your university this fall or spring. This specially-outfitted RV recreational vehicle is taking four NI-based technical workstations that highlight teaching and research applications on the road to 120 universities across North America. The Controls workstation will feature two automated Quanser-NI powered demos: Servo motor with Inverted Pendulum module, and Active Suspension.  For more information and the NI LabVIEW Campus Tour schedule, click here.  To discuss any particular challenge and solution you have in your controls courses, contact us at about having an Academic Solutions Advisor come and meet with you.

Is National Instruments' LabVIEW Campus Tour, featuring a NI-Quanser Controls Workstation, coming to your North American campus in 2012 -2013? Check the schedule.
Attracting, retaining students and graduating students are more of a challenge than ever.  One of the best strategies for ensuring you accomplish all three is to provide your students with a learning environment that allows them to move well past theory to the solid understanding that comes from hands-on experience. Confucius would definitely approve.