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.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New Additions to the Quanser Engineering Team

Quanser is proud to announce the recent addition of three new engineers to its team.  All three bring distinct but overlapping skills to our engineering design group.

Gilbert Lai has spent the past 10 years as an applications engineer, software developer and systems and control engineer. He holds a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Waterloo, where he specialized in Controls, Robotics and Aerospace (UAVs). His focus at Quanser is in robotics and systems engineering. For the past several years Gilbert has been a mentor for the SWAT771 FIRST Robotics team from St. Mildred's-Lightbourn School in Oakville, Ontario.

Amir Haddadi has been involved in professional R & D in academia and industry for the past seven years. A graduate of Queen’s University, Amir holds a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering, with a focus on Robotics and Controls. Amir’s areas of special interest include teleoperation systems, haptic interfaces and human-robot interaction.

Safwan Choudhury earned a MASc. in Electrical Engineering, Systems and Controls (Robotics) at the University of Waterloo. An experienced software engineer, Safwan has worked with such diverse institutions as the Canadian Department of National Defence, General Motors and Arista Networks.

With a large number of new and ongoing projects underway, Quanser is already enjoying the benefits of Gilbert, Amir and Safwan’s skills. Welcome aboard, gentlemen!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Discover the Latest Developments in Controls from Quanser at NIWeek 2013

If you are planning to attend NIWeek 2013 starting on Monday, August 5 in Austin, Texas, visit Quanser and learn about the latest, most exciting developments in the area of controls teaching and research. We'll be out in force and looking forward to an opportunity to talk with you
  • at the Quanser booth (#518) with demonstrations and displays of our latest NI-based control hardware and software solutions,
  • at the Academic Forum on Monday, August 5, where Dr. Tom Lee, Quanser's Chief Education Officer takes the stage during the keynote presentation to discuss the future of controls education and research.
Meet senior members of the Quanser team to find out more about how Quanser and NI are working together to help professors and researchers achieve their control teaching and research goals more effectively than ever. Or join one of the technical sessions to learn how University of New Mexico 's Innovation Plaza is bridging the gap between math, physics, chemistry and engineering using NI and Quanser tools.
  • TS1744 - How the University of New Mexico is Bridging the Gap
    Presented by Ramiro Jordan, ECE Associate Chair, Undergraduate Programs, University of New Mexico
    Monday, August 5, 11 -11.30 AM, Ballroom B

We have plenty of exciting news to share with you in Austin, so hope you are able to attend. All of us at Quanser are looking forward to seeing you there.