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.