Friday, January 25, 2013

Quanser Celebrates the Many Faces of Engineering

In keeping with the past festive season and with a vision of the hope and progress that engineering brings to the world, Quanser recently created an e-card celebrating the universal wish for a safer, cleaner and more peaceful future.

Fittingly, the message is delivered by the people of Quanser, both employees and family members, representing different generations and diverse nationalities. Can engineers make our dreams come true, the card asks?  Watch as 21 members of the Quanser family say they can.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Unveiled: Two New Quanser Products Allow Quicker Development of Control Algorithms in LabVIEW™

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the National Instruments NI Days UK event in London. This one-day event brought together over 600 leading engineers and scientists from across the UK and Ireland to see the latest advancements in design, control and test.

 As part of the academic track, I had the opportunity to run a couple of hands-on sessions to teach professors and researchers how they could quickly and effectively develop control algorithms to control real hardware in LabVIEW™. In each of the two hour-long sessions, the attendees were able to configure the data acquisition (DAQ) hardware, obtain real-world sensor data, command a servo motor open loop and then, program a basic control algorithm in LabVIEW. The algorithm was then deployed onto the stand-alone real-time controller, the NI CompactRIO.

The Quanser Q1-cRIO control interface module is designed to be driven by the RCP Toolkit for NI LabVIEW™  and interfaces with over 85 control experiments from Quanser. The module is compatible with NIcRIO-9024 controllers paired with the NI cRIO-9113 chassis.
It was all made possible because of two new products, a new C-series DAQ, the Quanser Q1-cRIO and Quanser’s Rapid Controls Prototyping Toolkit add-on for LabVIEW, both of which had been under development for the past year. These two new products greatly simplify the hardware access, configuration and algorithm deployment onto the cRIO.

For those of you that have had experience developing your own embedded controllers on the cRIO platform, you'll understand what a feat this was for an untrained audience. In the past for this to be possible, the controls engineer would first have to learn how to program the cRIO's FPGA, and then code and debug hardware access configurations and hardware algorithms, such as quadrature decoding. Then after hours or days of this phase of development, they would be ready to start doing what they originally wanted to do, and that is to develop their control algorithms. That kind of efficiency is of great value to anyone working in controls education and research.
The Quanser Rapid Control Prototyping Toolkit is a new add-on to the NI LabVIEW™  graphical development environment. With the Q1-cRIO, igreatly simplifies the hardware access, configuration and algorithm deployment onto the NI CompactRIO. 
This was the first time that Quanser’s RCP Toolkit and Q1-cRIO were used by education professionals so I was watching closely to see how they took to the experience. But as the sessions progressed and each and every one of the participants got their servo motors moving under control, I was both pleased and proud that the development efforts of our R&D team had hit the mark.

- Derry Crymble
Academic Solutions Advisor

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Seven Professors Around The Globe Tell Us How They Conduct UVS Research

Why did Professor Rastko Selmic of Louisiana Tech University choose Quanser when it came to building his unmanned vehicle laboratory? His rationale was straightforward.  “The system is easy to operate”, he says, “offers rapid prototyping and testing of algorithms, and can be used in a variety of teaching and research setups.” 

Professor Selmic’s reasons are echoed by professors around the world who are studying the control of unmanned air and ground vehicles.  Many of them have told us they value the efficiency of Quanser technology in general and our UVS Lab in particular. Others have added they appreciate how Quanser can help them build a fully-functioning indoor UVS lab that is safe, reliable and accurate.

With that in mind, here’s a look at just some labs currently using Quanser UVS technology.

The Naval Postgraduate School, San Diego, California
The Quanser control lab at Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) supports all control-related courses in NPS’s Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (GSEAS). “All our School of Engineering (SE), Mechanical and Astronautical  (MAE) and Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) students take basic control classes, says Professor Oleg Yakimenko, “with some going on to take further (modern) control classes.”

Professor Yakimenko and his team are currently working on developing "Detect-Sense-and-Avoid:” (DSA) technology/algorithms for indoor Qballs and Qbots that can easily be transferred to outdoor platforms.  They’re also working on collaborative missions for heterogenous unmanned formations (involving ground and aerial vehicles) that also can be transferred to and tested in a real-world environment.

In his lab at the Naval Postgraduate School, Prof. Yakimenko demonstrates four Qballs trying to maintain a formation while following a Qbot ground vehicle.
Professor Yakimenko has found that transitioning to a Quanser UVS Lab is fairly easy for NPS students, since Quanser experiments and QUARC software seamlessly integrate with MATLAB/Simulink for rapid controls prototyping and hard-in-the-loop testing.  

He also cites Quanser lab manuals as another reason NPS chose Quanser UVS solutions. “They support Quick Start operations and help things get going quickly.” In the end, he says, “the Quanser UVS Lab provides hands-on experience for a diverse group of students who have a wide range of different backgrounds.”

To view video of Dr. Yakimenko's work on "Detect-Sense-Avoid" technology using the Quanser UVS Lab, click here.  To learn more about Quanser's UVS Lab at NPS, click here.

University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland
At the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering in Scotland, Dr. David Anderson runs the SELEX Galileo Micro Air Systems Technology  (MAST) Laboratory. 

The MAST Lab includes Quanser unmanned ground and aerial vehicles (the Qbot and Qball), along with the Optitrack™ motion capture system that allows accurate tracking of multiple bodies and the subsequent studies of multi-agent control and navigation. 

Currently Professor Anderson and his team are using the Qball to conduct research into a number of areas. They are looking at designing cooperative flight and sightline controllers for practical laser wireless power transfer and, to that end, are building a laser transceiver to mount on the Qball and a ground based laser pointer. Another area they’re investigating is the use of a Qball to demonstrate the effectiveness of nonlinear flight stabilization controllers for constrained flight in atmospheric turbulence. 

Professor Anderson and his team say they appreciate Quanser UVS Systems for their flexibility and the ease of development provided by QUARC rapid control prototyping software.  To see the Quanser Qball in flight at MAST Lab, click here.  

Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
Professor Youmin Zhang and his team from Concordia University’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering have been working with Qbots and Qballs on fault tolerant formation and cooperative control. 

One area of their most recent research uses one Qball, one Qbot and two Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV), while another is focusing on cooperative control of UGVs only.  

From a teaching perspective, Professor Zhang finds his students are more motivated to come to class and learn because the hands-on Quanser system helped them bridge the gap between theory and practical engineering practice. He also is very pleased with that the system was designed for safe, reliable indoor use.

To learn more about Professor Zhang's work in flight control and networked autonomous vehicles, click here.
Professor Zhang at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada uses his Quanser UVS  technology for  both teaching and research.  He finds the combination of latest technology and hands-on learning motivates students because it helps them link theory to practice.
UVS Academic Research, China
A number of universities in China are using Quanser Qbot UGVs and Qball UAVs, to investigate flight and multi-vehicle control.  They include:

Northeastern University:  Professor Dingyu Xue uses Quanser Qballs and Qbot to conduct research on coordinated control. 

Harbin Institute of Technology:   Professor Zhenkai Wange uses the Qball and Qbot for research work on flight control and multi-vehicle control.

Jiangnan University:   Professor Fei Liu, recently purchased two Qball UAVs and three Qbot UGVs to teach flight control and the more advanced control of the Internet of Things (IOT).

Besides citing the functional flexibility of the Quanser Unmanned Vehicle Lab System, all three professors have expressed appreciation for the high level of safety and convenience that Qbots and Qballs bring to the teaching of flight control. They also find that the equipment’s compatibility with the MATLAB®/Simulink® based solution is helpful in accelerating their research.

Moscow Aviation Institute, Moscow, Russia
Quanser recently visited the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) to install a UVS Lab in the Institute's Robotic and Intelligent Systems department.  MAI now has a complete Quanser UVS Lab with four Qballs and a Qbot.  To learn more about the research being planned, click here.

A Quanser UVS Lab in the process of being unpacked and installed at the Moscow Aviation Institute.

The fact that Quanser unmanned vehicle technology has attracted worldwide use indicates how well it is satisfying the needs of a diverse group of UVS researchers and teachers.  Stay tuned to the Quanser blog for more information on how Quanser UVS technology is helping advanced UVS research and teaching around the world.

To find out more about how Quanser's UVS Lab can assist your controls teaching or research, contact us at

Quanser UVS Lab Takes Flight at Moscow Aviation Institute

I have done a lot of traveling this year. Looking back, I realized recently that I spent pretty much a week per month out of the country from May until now. Quanser has customers in all sorts of far reaching and exciting parts of the world, and as an adopted associate member of the marketing team I’ve had opportunities to travel to some unique places this year. Of the places I’ve seen and universities I’ve visited, by far the most interesting and memorable was the Moscow Aviation Institute.

Peter Martin takes a moment to sit in the cockpit of a 20th century Russian jet while at the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) on a 21st century mission: installing a Quanser UVS Lab at MAI's Robotic and Intelligent Systems department.. 
The goal of our visit was to “commission” a UVS Lab, the latest addition to the Robotic and Intelligent Systems department. Commissioning trips are traditionally the most fun for engineers at Quanser because we get to interact with customers and show off their fancy new equipment. In this case the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) had acquired a complete UVS Lab with four Qballs and a Qbot. This gave us plenty of toys to play with. Additionally as a graduate of University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) in Toronto, I was especially excited to experience the Russian equivalent of my alma mater.

Peter works with members of MAI's Robotic and Intelligent Systems department to ensure a smooth installation of the Quanser UVS Lab. 
The day began with a Christmas Day-esque box opening extravaganza with a whole room of boxes of various shapes and sizes to open. With that done, we moved on to setting up the OptiTrackSystem and various calibration and configuration tasks. After a delicious break for borscht and assorted Russian delicacies we moved on to the fun part - flight testing and cooperative autonomous missions. The UVS Lab comes with several preconfigured lab exercises and experimental missions. The most interesting of these are the cooperative missions which involve a Qball following a Qbot around the workspace. This offered some interesting challenges given the relatively small temporary workspace that was available at MAI, at one point resulting in the Qball landing on top of the Qbot.

A Qball and Qbot are put through their paces as part of the installation and flight testing process.  The research that the MAI team will tackle will be at the cutting edge of unmanned systems.
Despite the somewhat rough and ready interior of much of the university, an inheritance from the days of the Soviet Union, the research that the department will be tackling with the help of the UVS Lab will be at the cutting edge of unmanned systems. The team is planning to outfit their Qballs with several additional sensors, including GPS and additional sonar, to give them the ability to navigate independent of the motion tracking system. They then plan to use them as a dynamic team that can track both the ground vehicle and each other in a mobile workspace. I’m looking forward to following their progress in the months and years to come as their research takes our system above and beyond.

A final note: Russia is just the latest country where we've installed a UVS Lab for teaching and research. To find out what professors are doing with UVS Labs in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and China, click here.

- Peter Martin

Peter Martin is a Curriculum Developer at Quanser 

Simplify and Accelerate Control Design with Quanser RCP Toolkit for NI LabVIEW™

There’s nothing more frustrating for students than wasting precious time setting up hardware and software when they should really be spending most of their lab time focused on high-level learning.  To help anyone working in the National Instruments (NI) LabVIEW™ graphical development environment to avoid that problem, we created the Quanser Rapid Control Prototyping (RCP) Toolkit. 

The RCP Toolkit is a key element in Quanser's NI-based turn-key platform for controls education.  When combined with NI's Control Design and Simulation and Mathscript modules, it allows your students to accomplish everything from simulation to implementation.
The RCP Toolkit is one of five key elements in our NI-based turn-key platform for controls education. When it is combined with NI’s Control Design and Simulation and Mathscript modules, it becomes a true Rapid Control Prototyping environment, a design tool that allows your students to accomplish everything from simulation to implementation.

Essentially, the RCP Toolkit is a set of three preconfigured HIL interface VIs - Initialize, Read, Write - that simplify and therefore speed up many common controls, robotics and mechatronics programming tasks.  
The Quanser RCP Toolkit is a set of VI's that significantly  speed up programming tasks and allow students to concentrate on high-level learning.

Simplified, Streamlined Learning
Using the Toolkit, cRIO and Windows-based controllers can be targeted using a single VI, and targets can be switched through a single menu. In addition, all outputs are safely zeroed when the controller is stopped appropriately or aborted unexpectedly.  A three-dimensional visualization of Quanser’s rotary inverted pendulum control experiment is included to help students bridge the gap between the theory and practical implementation of the topics you are teaching. 

To help students bridge the gap between theory and practical implementation,  a three-dimensional visualization  of Quanser's rotary inverted pendulum experiment is included.
Adding to the speed and simplicity is the availability of Stream VI’s that add a set of protocol-independent communication VI’s in which communications are abstracted to two basic VI’s – Stream Server and Stream Client. Students can then switch easily between a number of protocols such as TCP/IP, shared memory or RS232 using the same application. Last but not least, the RCP Toolkit supports over 50 data acquisition boards from both National Instruments and Quanser.

If your teaching or research lab incorporates the NI LabVIEW™ graphical development environment, adding the Quanser RCP Toolkit allows you to significantly enhance its simplicity and effectiveness for everyone who uses it.

For software specifications and related information about the Quanser RCP Toolkit for NI LabVIEW™, click hereFor a demonstration, contact us at