Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On The Road with the National Instruments Campus Bus Tour 2012

Both National Instruments (NI) and Quanser share a strong belief that engineers learn better with hands-on tools. However, not every campus has the latest and greatest hardware and software tools available for students, researchers, and educators to use. So, with that in mind, NI decided to bring the hands-on engineering experience to North American campuses one at a time! The first ever NI LabVIEW Campus Tour is currently traveling to universities and colleges across the US and Canada and showcasing the latest tools for engineering education and research, including some of Quanser's hands-on experiments.

The NI LabVIEW Campus Tour is a 4-station "Lab On Wheels" visiting scores of North American college campuses throughout 2012 and 2013.

I had the opportunity to travel along with the Campus Tour bus last week through the midwest United States - road trip! I spent as much time teaching visitors about Quanser's education solutions as I did learning about the high-tech NI hardware and software tools and how they are applied in engineering research and industry.

At the time I met up with the bus, the tour had already been under way for weeks, travelling each day to a new town to visit as many campuses as possible. I joined up with the bus at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, then on to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and then the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin. I wasn't sure whether I would be the rock star or the roadie on this trip, but that's what made it an adventure.

As part of the U.S. Midwest portion of the Campus Tour, the NI LabVIEWTour Bus visited three major universities in three days.
The bus was beyond my expectations. An engineer's dream lab on wheels, the bus had more high-tech toys (i.e. expensive engineering gizmos) than most university labs. You step onto the bus and see benches filled with cutting edge equipment and monitors displaying the programs they are running. One corner of the bus I was already familiar with was the controls section, which featured the Quanser Rotary Inverted Pendulum and the Quanser Active Suspension experiments. Both experiments were hooked up to NI CompactRIO platforms using the new Quanser Q1-cRIO module for data acquisition and connectivity to the plants. LabVIEW software was driving the experiments. The visitors were always delighted when I showed them how the inverted pendulum can swing up and balance the pendulum and how the 3D race car visualization is used to bring a real-world dimension to the active suspension system. I think these were successful examples of how engaging hands-on hardware can be used to captivate and motivate students and researchers alike.

The Quanser Controls area is one of four LabVIEW-based stations inside the Tour Bus. On display are the Quanser Rotary Inverted Pendulum and Active Suspension experiments.
Throughout the day, visitors would come on the bus to see all of the four stations: control systems, 3-phase power, civil engineering, and RF communication experiments. The solutions ranged from student-level tools such as the NI MyDAQ and the NI ELVIS experiment platform up to advanced research and industry grade measurement systems running on the NI PXI computer platforms. So there was something for everyone on board. What I found really interesting was the large spectrum of engineering applications covered by LabVIEW and the hardware tools presented. Seeing these demonstrations really makes you feel like with the right tools you can do anything, if you know what you're doing!

Vistors to the Tour Bus spoke with NI field engineers and got a close-up view of LabVIEW™-based demonstrations for teaching and research.

I realized that the campus tour is a lot like a tradeshow or conference, where you have to be part roadie and part rock star. I'm glad I got a chance to go with the tour for a while, not only to demonstrate Quanser equipment and our collaboration with NI, but also to spend time with the NI field engineers and learn more about their solutions for cutting edge engineering. Check out the NI Campus Tour dates for upcoming stops including several Canadian universities this Fall.


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