Thursday, December 19, 2013

SWAT Visits Quanser

Recently, I, along with a few of my SWAT 771 teammates, came to visit Quanser after Dr. Lai invited us for a tour. Being involved in the FIRST Robotics program and working as an engineer for a career are two completely different things, so to be able to learn the ins and outs of an actual engineering facility was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience.

When we got there, we went into the boardroom to listen to a presentation and learned about what Quanser really was, a global company making innovative machines to make lives easier and more efficient. We also listened to a presentation about how we can make our FRC season run much smoother by Peter Martin, the lead mentor of  Team 4001. Learning about the dynamics and work ethic of teams other than our own was great and gave us a new perspective with which to tackle this season.

Once the presentation was over, Dr Lai and Mr Martin gave us a tour of the facility, where we saw the workshops, research centre and got to look at many innovative projects. The workshop was much larger than the one we get to build our robot, and nearly everyone was speechless. The projects were something else entirely, even though many of us visiting Quanser haven’t had the opportunity to take physics yet (we were Grade 10’s mainly) the projects were still breathtaking. Being a race car driver, my personal favourite was the active suspension that was connected to a computer with a car simulation.

Seeing a day in the life of an engineer was a very great and interesting experience I’m sure SWAT will not forget. With the kick-off to our robotics season coming closer and closer, the knowledge we learned is going to make us a stronger team. Thank you to everyone for letting us into your workplace and hopefully we will keep in touch!

~ Taegen Poles,
SWAT 771
St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School from Oakville, Ontario 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Controls Course Gives Students Skills and Tools for Senior Design Project and Future Career

The School of Mechanical Engineering at the Purdue University has a rather large enrollment, with more than 1,300 students in sophomore to senior years. The School strives to graduate engineers with knowledge and skills they will use in their career paths once they leave the university. Providing them with the tools and equipment similar to those used in industry is therefore a must.

A great example of a course that adapted to the changing environment is the Automatic Control Systems Course. While the controller design techniques and theories that students learn are still sound, the course lab had to be updated to reflect the shift in the controllers hardware implementation. As a result, students learn controller design methods working with Quanser-NI platform. Since the focus of the course lies on the controller design, rather than on programming or plant analysis, the School has decided to equip the lab with several NI CompactRIO controllers that can be easily connected to a Quanser plant, such as a Linear Inverted Pendulum or Seesaw.

A typical lab setup as presented by Dr. Galen King, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University during the recent NI Engineering Education webcast series.
At the beginning of the course, students learn to design their controller based on the method covered in the class, using LabVIEW Control Design and Simulation Module. Once they validate their algorithm in simulation, they deploy the code to the cRIO system, using LabVIEW to program FPGA on the cRIO module. At the end of semester, students complete their project by implementing the controller on an actual physical plant - either a custom build one, or on a linear motion control system from Quanser. That allows them to observe the behavior of the plant and tune their controller. At the end of the semester the students can compare their designs in a contest. They even take Quanser Seesaw further, to make the contest more exciting: students have to come up with the controller to balance the seesaw as weights are added on one end.

The course has been very well received by the students. By the end of the course, they are able to design real-time controllers on their own and are quite happy with the minimal programming overhead using LabVIEW environment. Moreover, they are able to apply the control concepts during their Capstone Design Project - and several students are competing to use the cRIO controllers they became familiar with in the Automatic Control Systems Course.

That's exactly what the Quanser-NI platform is supposed to do - make controls engineering teaching more engaging, while giving students industry-related tools and build the skills they will need as professional engineers.

To learn more about Quanser-NI platform for controls, click here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Quanser Qball Starring on TV

Click here to watch the CTV News video
The news of the retail giant Amazon planning to deliver orders using flying robots within the next five years spread quickly around the world. CTV News brought the story to its viewers surrounded by the Quanser "drones" - or unmanned aerial vehicles, as we prefer to call them: Qball-X4.

Visiting Concordia University in Montreal, the reporter discussed the feasibility of Amazon's plans with the experts from the  Diagnosis, Flight Control and Simulation and Networked Autonomous Vehicles Lab. Their work is focused on development of the fault-tolerant flight control systems, as well as cooperative UAV systems with increased reliability in severe environments. Quanser unmanned systems, such as Qball-X4 quadrotor and Qbot ground vehicle help the team, allowing them to develop and test their control strategies in the controlled environment of the lab.

To learn more about Quanser autonomous systems for research and teaching, visit our website.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Enable Named NI Education Specialty Alliance Partner

Quanser's partner, Enable Training and Consulting Inc. has been recently named an Education Specialty Alliance Partner by National Instruments. The first-of-its-kind designation certifies Enable as a go-to partner for educators and researchers looking for assistance with integration of NI hardware and software solutions.

Using its expertise and experience, Enable can work with universities and colleges to make sure they get most out of their LabVIEW and NI hardware-based tools. The offering spans from development of comprehensive and engaging curriculum to product setup and training, making sure NI solutions are effectively integrated in both classroom and lab settings.

Users of Quanser-NI platform for control research and education could already benefit from the strong Enable-NI partnership. Quanser collaborated with Enable developing modern media-rich courseware for engineering education.

"Enable has a unique mix of control systems and LabVIEW experience," says Keith Blanchet, Director of Business Development at Quanser. "We are very pleased to partner with them to better serve our growing community of NI platform Quanser customers."

Congratulations, Enable! We are looking forward to bringing this collaboration to the next level.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Challenges in Engineering Education - and How To Solve Them

In a recent interview, Dr. Hans Hoyer, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Engineering  Education Societies (IFEES) and a member of the prestigious Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC), offers his perspective on the major issues facing engineering education, along with the new approaches he favours to help overcome those challenges.

As a member of both GEDC and IFEES, Quanser is proud to partner with these organizations to improve engineering education worldwide and strongly supports the strategies Dr. Hoyer highlights to ensure the graduation of larger numbers of globally-prepared engineers. Read the full interview.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

MIT Students Using Quanser and NI Tools in Feedback Control Systems Course

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) undergraduate and graduate students taking the Feedback Control Systems course are quite familiar with the Quanser 3 DOF Helicopter system. They use it in the course to prototype and validate their controllers and connect the theory to real-world.

Within a series of lab modules, students are tasked to design roll, pitch and yaw controllers for the 3 DOF Helicopter using various techniques, including root loci, Bode plots, LQR, LQG and dynamic output feedback. At the design and simulation stage, students work in the LabVIEW Control Design and Simulation Module and LabVIEW MathScript RT Module environments. With the 3D visualization of the 3 DOF Helicopter provided, students can easily compare the simulation and the actual physical system.

To test the performance of designed controllers on an actual physical system, students use the Quanser-NI platform, combining Quanser higly nonlinear 3 DOF Helicopter with NI hardware (CompactRIO) and software  tools (LabVIEW FPGA and LabVIEW Real-Time modules). This solution significantly reduces setup time, simplifying connections and testing process so that the lab time can be used for teaching and learning rather than hardware testing. But see it for yourself:

The Quanser-NI platform used at MIT proved not only effective for validating control theory and designed methods, it also helped increase students engagement and interest. As Professor Jonathan How says in the article for National Instruments website,  "...numerous students spent extra time to participate in our optional competition, in which the helicopter is to autonomously traverse a virtual obstacle course. Since the completion of the term, several students have independently contacted the course staff due to increased interest in applying LabVIEW to other projects at MIT."
Read more about Professor How's experience with the Quanser-NI platform.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Researchers Around the World Are Using Quanser 3 DOF Hover

Quanser’s 3DOF Hover system has been serving the needs of researchers and educators in controls labs for many years. It is an economical and reliable hardware-in-the-loop test bed for the study of behavior of vertical lift-off vehicles in the lab, without actually flying.  

Here’s how some researchers are putting the Quanser 3 DOF Hover system to work.

Instituto Tecnologico de Aeronautica (ITA), Brazil:  Fault-Tolerant Control Research
Professor Roberto Kawakami leads the Fault-Tolerant Research Group in ITA’s Electronic Engineering Department. His research team’s main focus is the fault-tolerant control. In this context, they have investigated both passive and active approaches.

In a passive approach, the controller is designed to be robust to the effect of faults, whereas in an active approach, the controller is reconfigured by using information provided by a fault detection and isolation module. More specifically, their research has involved the use of robust and model predictive control techniques. As an example, they recently employed the Quanser 3 DOF Hover system to evaluate robust controllers designed by using an H∞ loop shaping method. The results were reported at the 2013 Asian Control Conference.

For most of their research activities in this area, Professor Kawakami’s group has used Quanser’s 3 DOF Hover and 3 DOF Helicopter systems with Quanser’s QUARC® rapid control prototyping software. They chose to work with Quanser systems because of their simplicity, speed and efficiency. Using Quanser products allow them to focus their efforts on the design of innovative control laws, with minimal time spent on low-level hardware and software issues. They find Quanser’s customer support is very good and the equipment has proven itself to be reliable after several years of operation.

 Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Spain: LQR and MPC Control
The following is a video produced by Gonzalo Torro Ferri, then of the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Spain, showing a linear quadratic regulator and model-predictive controller designed to command the pitch, roll and yaw angles of the 3 DOF Hover system.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Quanser-NI Platform for Controls Demonstrated at NIDays Boston, November 5

We would like to invite you to join Quanser at the inaugural NIDays 2013 in Boston on November 5.

The full-featured technical conference is designed for research and academic engineers interested in aerospace and defense applications. It gives you an opportunity to learn about the latest technologies, best practices and trends for designing test, measurement and embedded systems.

See the unique Quanser-NI platform for controls education and research in action.
Stop by the Quanser booth 105 to see live demonstrations of systems using Quanser and NI hardware and software tools and learn how you can reduce the time required to design and prototype controllers and greatly simplify the hardware implementation. We are looking forward to seeing you in Boston.

Register today to secure your spot!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Quanser-NI Seminar at Georgia Tech Introduces a Unique Platform for Controls Education & Research

On Thursday, November 14, Quanser and NI bring their unique platform for controls education and research to Georgia Tech.

In the seminar titled "A comprehensive hardware and software framework for modern control systems research and education" Quanser and NI engineers offer a detailed introduction to the new hardware and software platform designed by Quanser and NI to:
  • offer a smoother and more efficient process for a broad range of control system applications in research and education,
  • reduce the time required to design and prototype controllers and greatly simplify the hardware implementation,
  • bring an integrated workflow to the engineering labs: from modelling to analysis, controller design, high performance data I/O and real time control, plant systems, and end-user software environments,
  • cover the entire academic usage spectrum: from undergraduate teaching labs for introductory control through to advanced courses and graduate courses, and ultimately to a broad range of research application.
Collectively, the companies' pooled portfolio of products is emerging as a more efficient and effective option over the traditional multi-vendor platforms. This seminar will provide concrete information, case studies, and demonstrations on how such an integrated approach to control systems can improve research and teaching.

Seminar program:
11:00 AM - Harmonizing the disconnect: the vision and goals of the Quanser-NI platform.
Presenter: Dr. Tom Lee, Chief Education Officer, Quanser

11:30 AM - The development process for a complex UAV application focusing on the new NI myRIO embedded platform.
Presenter: Paul Karam, Director of Engineering, Quanser

12:00 PM  - Complimentary lunch

12:30 PM - Accelerating controller design and prototyping in LabVIEW for principal areas of control research and education.
Presenter: Dan Nelson, Marketing Engineer, Controls, NI

1:00 PM - Developing complex controllers using LabVIEW and Quanser RCP Toolkit - detailed technical demonstration
Presenter: Amirpasha Javid, Academic Solutions Advisor, Quanser

1:30 PM - Open Discussion and Q&A

Friday, October 18, 2013

Making Sense out of the "Flipped" Campus: ECEDHA Webinar

The so-called "flipped" campus prescribes that the mechanical details of engineering concepts be learned independently, while the faculty-led classroom experience be focused on synthesis and application of core concepts. In many academic circles, this is generating vigorous debate as we try to reconcile what we are all used to and have been trained to do, with the promised benefits of the flipped world.

Dr. Tom Lee, Quanser's Chief Education Officer explores the concept of "flipped" campus and how it can enhance traditional undergraduate labs and help trigger improvements in education and research in an ECE Webinar on November 12.

Making sense out of the "flipped" campus with new approaches to hands on labs
In his webinar, Dr. Lee will present a case for modern interpretations of the traditional hands-on undergraduate labs which can still offer a great opportunity for engineering schools to efficiently flip their classrooms and trigger improvements in education and potentially even research.

The hands-on lab was, from the outset, an effort to introduce concept synthesis into the curriculum and it is the place where theory meets reality and practical insights emerge from the foundational theoretical knowledge. In essence, this is what the flipped classroom promises to do. The key difference, today, is that the flipped strategy inherently takes advantage of modern technology and media frameworks and if we are not careful, even the best among the traditional labs will become stale and ineffective. Dr. Lee will present new techniques emerging from institutions and industry that are enriching the modern concept of the lab and additionally, make these labs of the near future, a vibrant dimension of the flipped campus. He will discuss some of the techniques, including bonding strong industrially-relevant concepts to undergrad labs; frameworks for off-campus hands-on labs; and the role of mathematics and modelling in an enriched lab experience and illustrate them with case studies.

Quanser is proud to partner with Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) to launch the association's new ECE Webinar series with an event on November 12.

Click here to register for the webinar.

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.

Quanser Hexapod Helps in Development of a Seismic Isolator at BarcelonaTech

A research group at The Polytechnic University of Catalonia's (also known as BarcelonaTech) Control, Dynamics and Applications Lab (CoDAlab) led by Dr. Francesc Pozo works on a system that can help better protect buildings and infrastructure from earthquakes. The roll-n-cage (RNC) anti-vibration device placed between the building and the ground can reduce motion induced in buildings and bridges by earthquakes or other vibration sources. To model the RNC device, Dr. Pozo and his group uses Quanser Hexapod. Watch this video from their lab:

In this application, the researchers attached a force-torque sensor to the upper plate of the Hexapod. The sensor measures the force and torque of the ball placed on the sliding surface. The group developed two control algorithms to control the position of the ball and place it in the middle of the platform as quickly as possible: a standard PID control and a fuzzy-logic control.

"I consider Quanser as one of the leading companies in the field of design and manufacture of systems to help instructors to teach," says Dr. Pozo, "but these devices can also be used to test control algorithms." His research group is using several other Quanser devices, such as Shake Table II to generate a horizontal motion to modeland identify a MR damper attached to the Shake Table surface.

To learn more how Quanser platforms can help you validate your control research, download this whitepaper.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Webinar: Engaging and Effective Controls Education

If you are looking for ways to make teaching controls more engaging and effective, the new interactive webcast series presented by National Instruments is a great opportunity to explore latest solutions for hands-on controls teaching and get useful tips from your peers.

We invite you to join the webcast Controls, Robotics and Mechatronics sessions on Friday, November 1 to learn more about:
  • NI-Quanser platform for controls education seamlessly integrating NI and Quanser technologies and engaging students by putting theory into practice.
    Register for the 30 minut webcast session "Create Engaging Learning Experiences for Students in Controls Education" starting at 1:00 pm CT
  • Purdue University implementing NI and Quanser tools in a control systems course, enabling students to progress from design to prototyping in just one semester.
    Register for the 30 minut webcast session "Bridging from Controls Courses to Final-Year Design" presented by Galen King, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, starting at 1:30 pm CT
With your webcast registration NI also gives you a chance to win a hardware you can use in your control lab, such as NI ELVIS, NI myRIO and more.

For the full Engineering Education Interactive Webcast Series program, click here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Quanser Rapid Control Prototyping Toolkit: From Control Teaching To Open-Ended Research

A new version of Quanser rapid control prototyping software add-on for LabVIEW™, RCP Toolkit 2013, is now available for users interested in controls. RCP Toolkit 2013 builds on its previous version by helping users take full advantage of the latest iteration of NI graphical development software, LabVIEW 2013.

Working in conjunction with the Quanser Q1-cRIO module for NI CompactRIO controller, RCP Toolkit 2013 continues to simplify the hardware access, configuration and algorithm deployment onto the NI CompactRIO, thanks to new features that offer real-time performance, along with expanded compatibility, usability, safety and support. As a result, LabVIEW users can extend the range of their activities from control teaching to open-ended research.

Key new features of RCP Toolkit 2013 include:
  • PXI Windows 7 support via the PXI 7841R DAQ board and the Quanser QPIDe for real time support
  • HIL Read Hardware Timebase VIs for Windows for enhanced safety and real-time performance
  • HIL Watchdog VI’s for enhanced safety
  • LabVIEW 2013, LabVIEW 2012 support under Windows 8
Visit our website to learn more about RCP Toolkit.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Field Trip to the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute

Our host, Dr. Geoff Fernie, TRI Director
As a kid, I always loved field trips, and could enjoy a few extra ones volunteering for my kids' school ones. Now, when the boys claim its embarrassing to have a parent around on such occasions, Quanser helped. Partnering and collaborating with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Canada's largest academic health sciences centre, for several years, the whole company got invited to visit the Institute and see how we are contributing to the great research going on in there.

The CEAL motion simulator
TRI is home to one of the world's most advanced rehabilitation facilities - Intelligent Design for Adaptation, Participation and Technology (iDAPT). The centerpiece of iDAPT is the Challenging Environment Assessment Lab (CEAL), a huge underground research lab with a 6 DOF hydraulic motion simulator where researchers can study interactions between people and their environment. 

Entering the WinterLab payload
Quanser partnered with TRI on CEAL development  - our QUARC real time control software is actually at the heart of this unique lab, controlling the motion simulator. I had read about CEAL previously, but seeing it in real life is really impressive. Several "payloads" or chambers simulating different environments and conditions can be put on the motion simulator to perform various research projects. 

2 DOF Gantry and safety harness
To protect the people actually performing tests, a safety harness is mounted on the roof. This is also a contribution of the Quanser team - our engineers designed an active robotic system that follows a person's movements around the chamber in a non-intrusive manner.

Inside the StreetLab
We had an opportunity to check some of the payloads, including the WinterLab that can simulate different conditions such as cold, wind, snow drifts and ice. It can simulate cold and icy sidewalks really well!

Another interesting payload we saw was the StreetLab, with a high res, 180-degree field-of-view curved visual projection screen combined with a treadmill interface and a wheelchair simulator.

We also visited other TRI research labs, and were amazed by the work they do. It was quite inspiring for all of us visitors from Quanser to see the real-life applications of our technology, skills and expertise. Definitely a recommended field trip for high school kids, and sorry, boys, I am volunteering for that one!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Teaching Control More Effectively Using Immersive Virtual Environments

Last month I had an opportunity to travel to the 10th annual International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) Symposium on Advances in Control Education (ACE) in Sheffield, England. The ACE Symposium offers controls educators from around the world an opportunity to meet and share ideas and strategies to advance controls education. Discussion topics ranged from remote and web-based learning systems to the fundamentals of control engineering pedagogy.

I presented a paper on behalf of Quanser documenting our recent experiences teaching undergraduate, graduate, and capstone level controls at the University of Toronto. Our approach to controls education was focused on real-world applications of controls topics through virtual environments and hands-on experience.

Peter Martin, a curriculum developer at Quanser, presented a paper at the ACE Symposium 2013 on recent experiences using the Quanser Driving Simulator virtual environment to teach undergraduate, graduate and capstone level controls at the University of Toronto.

An example of this approach is the Quanser Driving Simulator (QDS), a dynamic, real-time hardware-in-the-Loop simulation and high fidelity 3D representation of an automotive vehicle that can be driven in a closed virtual environment. At first glance it appears to be an exciting automotive video game, but in actuality, it’s a highly motivating, interactive controls teaching tool.

Jacob Apkarian, Quanser’s Founder and Chief Technology Officer, conceived the QDS concept and Quanser’s team of engineers made it a reality two years ago.

Last week Jacob and I began our third session using the QDS to teach graduate controls at the University of Toronto. Student reaction to the QDS system, and our teaching approach has been extremely positive. Based on word of mouth, this year’s graduate controls class size has grown significantly, with 25 full-time, part-time and visiting students from the University of Toronto, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and educational institutions in China and Germany.

The new semester has begun and we’re very excited about continuing our efforts to revolutionize the way controls education can be taught around the world. As this immersive, virtual environment approach to teaching grows, we’ll continue to share its progress with you.

- Peter Martin
Curriculum Developer, Quanser

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How Professors Around the World Are Using Quanser’s 2 DOF Helicopter

Quanser’s 2 DOF Helicopter is making significant contributions every day in control labs all around the world. The experiment provides an economical Hardware-in-the-Loop test bed to understand and develop control laws for a vehicle that has the pitch and yaw dynamics representative of a tethered rigid body helicopter, spacecraft or underwater vehicle. 

Quanser's 2 DOF Helicopter is an economical Hardware-in-the-Loop testbed to develop controllers for vehicles that have the dynamics representative of a tethered, rigid body helicopter, spacecraft or underwater vehicle.

The 2 DOF Helicopter works seamlessly within both MATLAB®/ Simulink® or LabVIEW environments and is built to high quality standards, allowing it to stand up to long term use. Given these factors, it’s not surprising that educators and researchers have found it to be an efficient tool for advancing both their teaching and research. 

Here’s a look at how some undergraduates, professors and researchers are using this versatile experiment.

Federal University of Itajuba, Brazil:  Optimal Control Research
Professor Luis Henrique is with the Systems Engineering and Information Technology Institute at Federal University of Itajuba, in Brazil.

His line of research is based on new optimal control approaches using H2 and H infinity synthesis, with a focus on the exploration of new properties which can be reached through state-of-art techniques in multivariable feedback control.

This research has been funded by FAPEMIG, a research agency in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The research team decided an aerospace plant was the best choice for practical testing because these systems are naturally good examples of multivariable feedback control applications.

The setup with the Quanser 2 DOF Helicopter model, along with Quanser’s QUARC® rapid control prototyping software allows the research team to highlight its unique dynamic properties, which are the basis of their practical tests, and evaluate and prove the main results of the new approaches proposed in their major researches. 

As Professor Henrique told us, “the reasons we chose a Quanser solution included, but were not limited to, the following: the high quality of the components used in the model; the open architecture design of the Quanser system which allowed us to integrate the system with commercial scientific software; and the proven reliability of Quanser systems, along with their reputation as solutions for control systems applications.”

Northwestern Polytechnical University, China: Autonomous Aircraft Control Research
A member of Northwestern Polytechnical University’s Department of Control and Information Engineering, Automation School, Professor Li Aijun is focused on control theory research and autonomous aircraft control research. 

Professor Aijun uses the Quanser 2DOF Helicopter to teach controls to his undergraduates, while his graduate students also use it as an experimental test bed. His lab includes two Quanser 2 DOF Helicopters, the QPID hardware-in-the-loop control board, the VoltPAQ-X2 amplifier and Quanser’s QUARC® rapid control prototyping software. Professor Aijun favours the Quanser solution because he and his students find the MATLAB/Simulink –based controller design process easy and intuitive.

Ohio State University, USA: A Video Showing the 2 DOF Helicopter Used in a Student Project
The following is a video produced by Ohio State University students showing a Quanser 2 DOF Helicopter tracking a joystick under LQR+integrator+observer control.
View the video:

To learn more about the Quanser 2 DOF Helicopter, click here

Friday, September 13, 2013

Latest Control Validation Techniques to be Highlighted at SICE 2013

If you are planning to be at this year’s SICE Annual Conference in Nagoya, Japan, we invite you to attend the September 14th workshop titled “Advanced Test Rigs and Validation Platforms for Control Systems”. Presented by Quanser, National Instruments (NI) and Nanzan University, this workshop offers an overview of the latest control theory validation techniques being used in Japan and globally for a range of advanced control research applications.

The workshop will be led by Dr. Isao Takami of Nanzan University and Dr. Tom Lee of Quanser. Dr. Takami, a specialist in control, systems and reliability engineering will show how Nanzan University researchers use Quanser - NI technology to validate their research in Robust Control, Adaptive Control and Particle Swarm Optimization.

Dr. Lee, Quanser’s Chief Education Officer, will discuss how researchers in North America are using Quanser – NI technology to validate their work in applications such as Aircraft Dynamics and Rehabilitation Robotics.  Dr. Lee will also discuss “Applications in Education” by giving examples of immersive visualization techniques that bring control experiments to life as real-life hardware-in-the-loop applications.

This conference workshop promises to be a stimulating look at the latest trends in testing and validating advanced controls research projects. See you at Nagoya University on Saturday, September 14th, 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Quanser & NI Technologies Work Seamlessly to Ensure Fast Design Even Outside the Lab

At NIWeek 2013, National Instruments launched the NI myRIO, a portable, student-ready design tool that help students create real, complex engineering systems more quickly and affordably than ever before.

During the Academic Forum Keynote, we used the Quanser Qball-X4, one of our most sophisticated teaching and research products, to demonstrate the seamless integration of NI’s myRIO with Quanser products and experiments. Have a look.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The New NI myRIO Brings Out the Kid in Quanser at NIWeek 2013

What would compel 4,000 smart people to travel to Texas in August, only to braise in 40° C (105° F, y’all), full humidity heat for an entire week? Well, if you are an engineering enthusiast (AKA nerd) like me, you are attending NIWeek in Austin. Every year, on meteorologically the worst possible week of the year, our friends at National Instruments (NI) host a celebration of technology, and engineering heroism unlike any other event in the world. As per usual, Team Quanser was there to share in the fun. 

NIWeek has become the event where Quanser engineers truly strut our stuff… our digital dazzle… scientific sassy… mechatronic mojo. Not so much for some well-thought-out marketing rationale to clearly demonstrate the core benefits of our solutions, but because it’s the one time of the year where the engineers are unashamedly engineers… builders, explorers, rascals, tinkerers. 

Cameron Fulford, Engineering Manager, and Tom Lee, Chief Education Officer, both of Quanser, prepare to fly the Qball X-4 quadrotor, Quanser’s flagship UAV platform, with the newly introduced NI myRIO embedded hardware device.

This year, we sure did have fun. One of the key highlights of the conference for NI was the launch of their latest (and truly sick) product, the NI myRIO, a richly featured embedded computing platform that is pointed directly at students who are itching to break away from their desktop chains and make mobile magic happen. Unlike other hobby platforms, the myRIO is a true NI solution with all of the robustness and support software features that will make the difference between real engineering and hacking for students.

Quanser was one of the few privileged groups to get a prototype unit well ahead of launch so that we could get a head start on integration into our product line and maybe even develop a couple of demos in time for the launch. So a sensible company would have used this opportunity to create interesting demos on how the myRIO, when combined with our devices, can offer richer educational experiences. 

NIWEEK is one of the world’s most important engineering conferences. This year’s event featured the launch of the revolutionary NI myRIO device, a richly featured embedded computing platform that allows students to work outside the lab to design real projects quickly.

What did we do? We strapped it on to our flagship unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platform, the Qball X4 quadrotor, and flew it around the conference, generally delighting people with the sheer cool factor and occasionally annoying people with the ear-assaulting hum of the Qball’s research-grade motors.

The Qball is one of Quanser’s most celebrated research platforms. Bleeding edge research groups around the world to validate complex algorithms for multi-agent unmanned vehicle experiments (i.e. intelligent, collaborative robots). Unfortunately, prior to this year, there really was no practical way to have the Qball work on the NI platform simply because there was no embedded platform capable and rich enough to do all the things that the Qball does… until the myRIO.

The end result, as we say in Canada was, “beauty eh?” It was truly impressive. Not just the fact that the Qball, powered by myRIO, flew crisply and in a well-controlled way, but the actual integration process was surprisingly smooth.

As we illustrated during our demo at the keynote, the work that NI has invested in a full range of multitalented express VI’s for a whole range of essential subsystems and functions reduced the development effort to a matter of days. We had been bracing ourselves for an effort of weeks (the UAV applications are some of the trickiest) but thankfully we were proven wrong. 

So where do we go from here? When can you buy a Qball V2.0 powered by NI myRIO? When can you feel and breathe the magic yourself? We have no idea. The reality is the Qball is an entire platform with options for optical tracking, and a wide range of experimental applications. It’s so much more than just getting it to fly. It’s also not exactly the kind of product that people buy for use by undergrads. But in the end, I think this was an amazing illustration of the true power and potential of the myRIO platform.

Specs aside, it really brought out the kid among our engineering team and got us to be more creative and ambitious. It was an exciting project. It was a fun project. Thankfully, it was not as hard as we thought. And in the end, it was the right thing to do. 

P.S. I wasn’t totally honest. We actually did do a sensible myRIO thing as well. We announced and demonstrated the upcoming Quanser Terminal Board (QTB) for NI myRIO, a device that quickly connects the myRIO to most of Quanser’s core plants offering users a terrific, new, cost-effective DAQ option for control systems. Yawn.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Quanser 3 DOF Helicopter Platform Helps Develop High-Speed Embedded MPCs

Were you to search the Internet or YouTube for videos on applications of specific Quanser devices (a practice we definitely recommend), you’d find they’re in wide use by researchers and educators all around the world. 

One of the videos we’ve seen lately involves our 3DOF Helicopter.  It’s being used by Jonathan Currie and his team at the Industrial Information and Control Centre housed at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in New Zealand.  

They’re involved in developing a high-speed embedded Model Predictive Controller (MPC), a constrained optimal control strategy which has been widely used in the world of chemical and process control. Like other researchers, they believe that MPCs have considerable applicability within the high speed (kHz) embedded world of unmanned vehicles (air, ground and sea).

Jonathan and his team chose to test their embedded MPC control with the Quanser 3 DOF Helicopter, because they were seeking a challenging, nonlinear MIMO plant for which traditional control strategies (such as PID) were either unsuitable, very hard to tune or hard to get going at high speed. They implemented their MPC algorithm on a low-cost Texas Instruments Delfino microcontroller together with an auto-coding toolset implemented in MATLAB®.

Quanser’s 3 DOF Helicopter provided a robust, open-architecture, and visually impressive platform. The research team could easily remove the Quanser Q8-USB DAQ from the original solution (where the controller runs on the PC) and, when coupled with the Quanser VoltPAQ-X2 power amplifier, measure and control the system using the TI microcontroller. The 3 DOF Helicopter enabled them to test their own controller algorithms and hardware on real system and validate their control design.

Currently the AUT team is building, generating, compiling and deploying MPC controllers capable of 5 kHz sampling rates in as little as 10 seconds on microcontrollers that only cost a few dollars. This proved so promising that the team has started a spin-off company, Inverse Problem Ltd, to commercialize the ideas. Quanser is pleased that its products contributed to the AUT team’s research.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Quanser to Showcase Game-Style Learning at ACE 2013 in Sheffield, UK

A new generation of engineering student exists today.  It’s made up of young women and men who grew up with computers and computer games, and tend to learn best when working (and playing) in a computer-based, interactive, hands-on lab environment.

Tailoring our hands-on lab learning solutions to suit this new breed of students is a major focus at Quanser. You can see some of our latest work in this area if you are attending the 2013 Advances in Control Education Conference (ACE), August, 28th – 30th, at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield , U.K.

Educationally rigorous and fun, the game-style Quanser Driving Simulator is a proven, effective way to motivate students to learn control theory applicable to the automotive industry.
On August 28th, Quanser curriculum developer Peter Martin will present a paper on the Quanser Driving Simulator (QDS).  The QDS is a hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) application that uses a game-style interactive, immersive 3D display, and context-rich learning objectives and outcomes, all integrated with a more traditional DC motor-based hardware plant. 

As ACE attendees will see, the QDS is designed to be educationally rigorous, involving and fun. In addition, actual implementation experiences for an undergraduate and graduate course at the University of Toronto, Canada, indicate the new, game-style approach enhances students’ motivation and boosts their appreciation of contemporary control engineering practices.

ACE 2013 attendees can learn about Quanser's interactive, hands-on learning approach for today's games-oriented engineering students.
This is a great opportunity to find out more about an immersive and highly motivating kind of learning.  Visit Adept Scientific, Quanser's representative in the United Kingdom and Ireland, at their booth to see related Quanser teaching and research hardware in action, specifically the QUBE-Servo, a low cost, self-contained servomotor for undergraduate labs, and the Rotary Servo, our classic core servomotor product.

Click here for more information about the Quanser Driving Simulator.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What Does the Undergraduate Lab of the Future Look Like?

A generation ago, the first real exposure that engineering students would get to sophisticated engineering tools and processes occurred only after they entered university. Back then, complex, affordable engineering equipment was not widely available to young techies.

That’s not true anymore. Today, high school students have access to all kinds of advanced technology – everything from embedded systems and tablets, mobile devices, small scale robotics systems, even UAVs. They’re all part of the fabric of teenagers’ everyday lives.

What Students Expect… and What They Get

Once they enter a university engineering program, these high school students are expecting, at the very least, to continue doing hands-on work with high tech tools and systems that run the gamut from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and solar power to advanced space systems and robotics.

Unfortunately, for too many students, this is where the process of disillusionment begins. Their engineering courses in first and second year have them doing math, learning theory and engaging in rigorous, low level foundational engineering. This is absolutely necessary, but, typically, students don’t quite understand that. Their appetite has been whetted for tangible, hands-on projects involving robotics, unmanned vehicles and the like. Being restricted to textbooks and mathematical theories fails to excite them.

A New Kind of Engineering Lab
Today the question for engineering educators is how do we motivate and retain our students while still ensuring that they have the rigorous theoretical background they need? Our answer has been to create a new kind of engineering lab. This lab is based on modular, purpose-built educational hardware and software that recognizes the needs and skills of a new generation of engineering students who grew up entirely in the computer era. To better understand them, we considered where they fit within the entire history of engineering education. 

See what the Undergraduate Lab of the Future can look like in practice.

An Exciting Future Builds on the Past
In its infancy, engineering education was very closely related to industry and hands-on application of specific skills. Studying engineering amounted to doing an apprenticeship. This was the beginning of an extended mechanical era, when students studied how to make things with their hands, how to build roads, bridges, locomotives and other tangible industrial applications. In other words, what they learned in the engineering classroom was closely tied to the real world and the real world technologies of the time.

In the early to middle 20th century technology and our engineering projects became more complex. We entered a theoretical era that required heavy reliance on mathematics. With the dawn of the computer age, the pendulum swung again and engineering’s educational emphasis returned to the more practical skills that were in demand in industry. However, despite the increasing wealth of experience that was available to students at that time, dynamic modeling and controlsystem curriculum remained firmly entrenched in a math-centered, simulated context.

Presenting the Undergraduate Lab of the Future
As we see it, the Undergraduate Lab of the Future has already arrived. It is the expression, in the classroom and university lab, of this latest pendulum swing. It is a hands-on, applications-based lab that delivers a learning experience that is theoretically rigorous, yet practical, effective and highly motivating. It touches all the bases and creates engineers that will be well-suited to find the engineering solutions suited for the 21st century.

Monday, August 12, 2013

NEES Chooses Quanser Testbed to Help Judge Bridge Competition

When a leading earthquake engineering organization conducts a national structural bridge competition for undergraduate engineering students, then uses your products to help the judges determine which is the most seismically sound bridge, you might be excused for feeling a little proud.

That’s exactly what happened last May when the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) held their K’NEX Bridge Competition in Oakland, California. 

With a Quanser Shake Table II system as the testbed, five student teams subjected their 1.5-meter long K’NEX bridges to the seismic simulations of a number of powerful, recorded earthquakes. The team from Oregon State was declared the winner, but all participating teams were the beneficiaries of the competition.

The Quanser Shake Table II (center, under plywood base) was selected to be the testbed that simulated real-life earthquakes at the K’NEX Bridge Competition in May, 2013.  
(Photo courtesy of NEES.)
 Student competitions like this one are excellent learning opportunities because they closely resemble real-world engineering practice. Students have to work with tight deadlines, prescribed materials and other predetermined parameters, just as industry engineers do.

The student team from Oregon State University proudly stands next to their bridge, which was judged most seismically sound at the competition in Oakland. California.  (Photo courtesy of NEES.)

This type of competition fits naturally into the pedagogical approach Quanser has long championed - hands-on learning. We support this approach by offering over80 hands-on, hardware-in-the-loop experiments to engineering educators in controls, robotics and mechatronics. Naturally we couldn’t have been more pleased when a leading organization like NEES, which is dedicated to “developing the next generation of earthquake and tsunami engineers”, chose Quanser lab equipment to help them test, educate and encourage students of earthquake science. NEES’s choice reflects their belief in our shake table’s ease of use, accuracy and reliability.

Confucius said it best more than 2500 years ago: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Hands-on education and quality learning tools that Quanser provides are advancing that philosophy today - and helping to educate the global engineers of tomorrow.