Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is Engineering Education Moving In The Right Direction?

Does engineering education need an overhaul?  How do educators ensure the next generation of engineers is ready to meet the complex challenges of the 21st century?  Dr. Tom Lee, Chief Education Officer at Quanser, Inc, offers insights into these all-important questions in “Why Can't Johnny Design?”, a four-part series of articles in EEWeb-Pulse magazine.

Engineering students' "fear of math" is one of several issues impacting modern engineering education, according to Dr. Tom Lee, Chief Education Officer of Quanser.  Read the article  to learn ways this problem is being addressed. 

In “Part 1: The Challenges in Modern Engineering Education”, Tom looks at the modern engineering curriculum and how it prepares – or doesn’t prepare – students about to enter the industry.

In Part 2, “Re-Inventing the Engineering Lab”, Tom examines the undergraduate lab and outlines how it’s changing to provide more effective learning. 

In Part 3, “Doing the Math”, Tom looks at the challenge mathematics still presents to many students and suggest ways this problem can being addressed.

Part 4, “Motivating Younger Students”, will round out the series in a future issue. 

We encourage you to read these articles and give us your feedback.  Happy reading!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

From WinCon to QUARC 2.3: the Evolution of Real-Time Control

Quanser’s QUARC® rapid control prototyping software was specifically designed to extend Simulink’s capabilities. It does so by allowing engineers to run Simulink models seamlessly in real-time on real hardware. Naturally QUARC 2.3, the new version of QUARC that will be released shortly, will feature full compatibility with the new MATLAB®/Simulink® R2012a and R2012b.  

Quanser will soon release QUARC 2.3 control software, which will offer
full compatibility with the new MATLAB®/Simulink®
R2012a and R2012b.

Researchers and teaching professors in a variety of disciplines can implement virtually any control algorithm using QUARC. They can teach control concepts using Quanser equipment; conduct research with it on Quanser equipment; even do research with customized or third party equipment thanks to the advanced functionality and customized blocksets.

Professors and students alike can work with tremendous ease and efficiency, since they will spend less time coding and more time on high-level designing and testing.

Faster Design and Prototyping
An excellent example of this ease and efficiency comes from Professor Daniela Constaninescu, of the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Victoria in Canada. 

For her work developing a cooperative haptic rehabilitation exercise, Professor Constantinescu chose to use QUARC and Simulink with Quanser’s Haptic Wand device.  QUARC software allowed her research team to design a real-time controller quickly and made the communication with her C++ - based simulation engine easy.
A researcher at the University of Victoria performs a haptic cooperation experiment using Quanser’s Haptic Wand device and QUARC® control software. Both the hardware and software were reliable, time-saving tools that helped Professor Constantinescu advance her haptic research.
“QUARC interfaces very easily with Simulink”, says Professor Constantinescu. “It's excellent in terms of rapid control prototyping and it's also very good in terms of research work where you have students working through Simulink. It forces students to be in some ways better programmers than they are.”  As she pointed out, not all mechanical engineers like writing code. “But now they have this ability to generate real-time code by basically developing a Simulink model and then compiling it into real-time code. Students can also implement new algorithms fast because they do not need to develop their own haptic system, but only to integrate additional blocks into an existing Simulink model. That certainly makes life much easier.”

From WinCon 1.0 to QUARC 2.3: a History of Accelerating Design
QUARC’s history began over twenty years ago when Dr.Jacob Apkarian, Quanser’s Founder and Chief Technology Officer, wanted to develop a graphical way of implementing feedback control design in Windows® through pre-drawn block diagrams. He assigned that task to his Chief Scientist, Dr. Dan Madill and WinCon 1.0 was born. “This was in the days before the existence of MATLAB’s Simulink simulation program, recalls Dr. Madill. “When MATLAB did release Simulink, there was still no way to do real-time coding. So we then created WinCon 2.0, which when integrated with Simulink, automatically generated control code and ran it in real-time.”

“WinCon worked well with successive versions of Windows but as time went on and technical possibilities expanded, we were running into a variety of limitations. In addition, the WinCon code building on top of earlier Windows code was getting complicated.” The Quanser software development team took the opportunity to completely redesign WinCon, expand its scope, and integrate it more closely with Simulink. They also gave it a new name: QUARC.

A Real-Time Revolution In Controls
Among the goals developed for QUARC software was a high degree of compatibility with current and future versions of MATLAB/Simulink.  QUARC works with virtually any operating system/platform (Windows, QNX, Linux) and uses a “wrapper layer” that abstracts the OS so that, in terms of coding, every OS looks the same. “That leads to a consistent user experience,” says Dr. Madill.

All this makes QUARC a real-time control revolution: extremely versatile, portable, flexible and verifiable. It is a seamless way of running simulations and achieving real-time control. As a result, students can learn control concepts faster and better; researchers can test their theories in real-time, drastically reducing development time and cost; and real-world devices are perfected sooner and fast-tracked to market.

There’s Even More To The QUARC Story

Watch for more upcoming QUARC blog posts.  We will give you some examples of how QUARC has helped professors teach controls to students and take you on an around-the-world tour to see how QUARC has helped professors and engineers in industry conduct research.

You can learn more about QUARC using an online Interactive Tutorial.  Or request a free 30 day trial version of QUARC 2.3.

See you next time! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NI LabVIEW Users Now Have Access to LabVIEW-based Courseware for Over 30 Quanser Control Experiments

With the 2012 introduction of Quanser’s Rapid Control Prototyping (RCP) Toolkit for NI LabVIEW and Q1-cRIO control interface module, professors and students using NI LabVIEW are able to interface with over 85 control experiments from Quanser.

Now, thanks to Quanser’s recently released LabVIEW-based courseware, they can possess study materials, exercises and more for over 30 hands-on control experiments. These experiments include virtually all of Quanser’s rotaryand linear experiments, as well as some more advanced mechatronic, aerospace and process control systems. The benefits this courseware offers teaching professors and students are significant.

Professors save time on course development.  Since course material fully compatible with LabVIEW is provided with the experiments, professors wind up with more available for teaching at a high level or conducting research. Instructor and student workbooks include comprehensive student assignments that are ready to use right out of the box.

Students can study controls at an introductory or advanced level.  LabVIEW is an excellent software platform on which students can learn everything from control fundamentals to advanced concepts through engaging, hands-on experiments. For example, students new to controls can become familiarized with PID control by tuning the control gains on the front panel and examining how the experiment response changes, while more advanced students may wish to modify the block diagram and implement their own feedback control strategies.  It’s all possible thanks to fully integrated Quanser courseware and supplied LabVIEW Virtual Instruments (VIs).

A wide range of teaching topics.  The courseware covers many classic modeling and control topics, including modeling a system using a step response, designing a PID-based controller, and state feedback control.

Courseware guides you from set up to lab experiments.  Quanser controls courseware typically includes hard copies and digital copies of Instructor and Student Workbooks and /or Laboratory Guides, a User Manual and a Quick Start Guide. The courseware helps you quickly set up the experiment in your lab, provides a summary of background theory, as well as a set of pre-lab assignments (questions) you can use to test students’ understanding of it before they start the laboratory exercises. Many Quanser systems have multiple sets of lab exercises; for example, with the Rotary Servo Base Unit, you can teach modeling, position control and speed control labs. 

Quanser courseware typically includes Instructor and Student Workbooks and/or 
Laboratory Guides, a User Manual and a Quick Start Guide.

ABET-aligned content.   The courseware conforms to the requirements established by ABET, Inc., the recognized accreditor for college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering and technology.  This may help your institution in the accreditation process. The alignment process was conducted in collaboration with Professor Hakan Gurocak, Washington State University, Vancouver, USA.

Developed by experts.  Quanser courseware is authored by an experienced team of Quanser curriculum developers and engineers, headed by ProfessorJacob Apkarian, Ph.D., Quanser’s founder and Chief Technical Officer. In keeping with the integration process, some material was been developed in cooperation with specialists at National Instruments.

LabVIEW VIs are included.  LabVIEW Virtual Instruments (VIs) are offered with all Quanser experiments. The VIs are based on the laboratory exercises presented in the documentation. You can easily modify the VIs to suit your particular course.

Access to the courseware updates. Quanser documentation is regularly reviewed and revised.  Changes are based on several criteria including feedback from existing users and collaborating professors, and internal and external peer reviews. We also seek out novel ways to present and deliver our curriculum that would make it easier for professors to adapt the courseware for their specific needs. In the future we plan to introduce an online update mechanism that will give professors access to the latest documentation.

If you wish to download a course material sample, click here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How Quanser Shake Tables Are Shaking Up Earthquake Engineering Instruction

How can you help your undergraduate civil engineering students grasp complex concepts of structural engineering more quickly and thoroughly? A sure way is to offer them engaging, hands-on lab experiments that leap past dry theory and bring seismic challenges to life.

According to a large and diverse group of professors, a new level of student engagement and understanding is achieved when they perform earthquake simulations with Quanser Shake Table technology and hands-on experiments in their labs.

These dynamic teaching tools can help everyone go beyond the conventional content of everyday theoretical courses. They help “shake things up” for students and allow them to develop an understanding of structural dynamics and earthquake engineering principles through hands-on experiments in addition to theory.

Three Shake Tables are available from Quanser.  

The Shake Table I-40: Compact, portable yet powerful, this single-axis shaker is suitable for simulation of earthquakes and evaluation of active mass damper performance. It is designed for use in undergraduate courses.

The Shake Table II: A heavy load shaker, this bench-scale table simulates earthquake movements along a single axis and can move a substantial 7.5 kg load at 2.5 g. It features a wide surface which can accommodate several structures and increase the complexity of your experiments.

The XY Shake Table III:  This is a heavy load dual-axis shaker that is ideal for advanced research in structural dynamics and earthquake engineering. It delivers high acceleration and velocity for a lab’s customized structures and can accelerate loads up to 100 kg at 1 g.

Quanser Shakes Tables are being used for teaching and research by professors all around the world, including many who work in regions affected by volatile seismic activity. Here’s how three professors are currently making use of Quanser shake tables. In future blog posts, we’ll focus on each individual shake table and offer further examples of what professors are accomplishing with them.

Shake Table I-40 at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Professor Kelly Cohen‘s Shake Table I-40 is put to work in a number of ways in the School of Aerospace Systems at the University of Cincinnati.  To begin with, he uses it to teach vibration control to undergraduate students in aerospace engineering. But Professor Cohen has also integrated the ST I-40 within a remote lab setup in which offsite students can log on, tune different control parameters, view the measured response on the graphical interface and examine the results in real-time via webcam. Professor Cohen can also view their data once it’s saved.  As if that weren’t enough, Professor Cohen incorporates the I-40 in outreach programs aimed at elementary and high school students interested in science and engineering.

The University of Cincinnati selected the Shake Table I-40 for its versatility, portability and open-architecture design. Professor Cohen appreciated the peace of mind that came with being able to acquire the ST I-40 as a turn-key system that included the shake table, a PC, software and in-house installation and testing.

Shake Table II at the University of California, Davis, California, USA
The Shake Table II is a very popular lab tool at University of California, Davis, according to Nima Tafazzoli, postdoctoral researcher in the school’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. It’s used for teaching, research, and outreach. 

At the undergraduate level, it helps professors teach classes and seminars in civil and environmental engineering. At the graduate level, it demonstrates the response of single or multiple degrees of freedom structures subjected to earthquakes.

As a research tool, the Shake Table II is involved in several projects at Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering as well as Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering when dynamic load is required to be applied to the system.

The Shake Table II has also been featured in outreach programs that provide educational opportunities and information for a wide range of interest groups, including elementary through post-graduate students. What’s more, it is part of UC Davis’s annual entry in the Undergraduate Seismic Design Competition held by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI).

UC Davis chose the Shake Table II because it is easy to set up, use and transport, without requiring the work of a group of lab assistants. They find it an engaging way to demonstrate the actual behavior of structures and see it as safer to use than most lab equipment, especially with inexperienced students.

XY Shake Table III at Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, Liaoning, China
As a member of Dalian University of Technology’s Faculty of Infrastructure Engineering in China, Professor Luyu Li uses the Shake Table III to conduct earthquake engineering research. One of his areas of interest involves conducting nonlinear vibration seismic performance tests on steel structures.

He was familiar with the Quanser Shake Table II from his PhD studies and at one time stacked two ST II’s together to achieve xy motion. He then acquired the xy Shake Table III because it was a dedicated xy table with higher performance (heavier loads, weight bearing, higher acceleration, and greater stroke) compared to the stacked ST II arrangement.

Besides the xy Shake Table III, Professor Li uses Quanser data acquisition devices, accelerometers and QUARC® control design software with MATLAB®/Simulink®. Key factors that led to his choosing Quanser xy Shake Table III were its easy-connect capability, its compatibility with the Simulink environment, which he finds very suitable for control applications, and its high bandwidth using linear motor actuators.

Stay tuned to this blog for upcoming individual posts on the Quanser Shake Table I-40, Shake Table II and xy Shake Table III.  For more information about Quanser Shake Table solutions, click here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Six Ways We've Enhanced QNETs for Teaching Introductory Controls

I would like to let you know about the latest revision of the QNET Resources — the complete set of documentation, courseware and software VIs that comes with each QNET trainer. To be released this spring, this newest version of the QNET Resources assembles six new features that will mark a significant shift forward for our existing and future QNET customers.

QNET controls experiments can be used for multiple engineering courses, including Electrical, Mechanical, Mechatronics, Biomedical and Aerospace. 

The New QNET Resources Delivers an Enhanced User Experience

Our focus for the new revision of the QNET Resources was to improve the usability and efficacy of the software, documentation and courseware for teaching undergraduate controls. The changes we've made include not only revisions to the existing courseware and documentation, but new material as well. Some of the improvements include:
  1. A collection of instructional videos provided for each QNET trainer
    • They save professors’ teaching time while helping students quickly grasp the capabilities of each QNET trainer. The videos cover initial setup, curriculum structure, real-life applications and more.
  2. Updated, ABET-aligned courseware
    • This ensures that the courseware is comprehensive and includes detailed assessment guidelines.
  3. Individual setup material, Quick Start Guides and VIs for each trainer
    • Faster, easier setup of each QNET experiment.
  4. Cleaner-designed VIs
    • This makes them easier to understand and see how the theoretical block diagrams relates to the actual implementation.
  5. Additional lecture materials, including Powerpoint slides
    • They work to help professors introduce the labs in their lectures.
  6. Additional documentation updates and revisions
    • They improve the look and feel of the courseware.
 The new QNET Resources will be released this spring and will offer added value to professors and students alike.  

Quanser QNET Trainers: Helping Professors Teach Introductory Controls For A Decade
The Quanser/National Instruments Engineering Trainers, or QNETs, were introduced almost 10 years ago as a series of hardware platforms for teaching a variety of undergraduate controls concepts. The boards were designed to snap into the ELVIS I data acquisition (DAQ) board developed by National Instruments (NI).

You can choose from six different Quanser QNET trainers for the NI ELVIS II workstation.
Over the years, we’ve made several updates to the platform.  We added new and innovative trainers, improved performance, and made the virtual instruments (VIs) and documentation more user-friendly. Today, a total of six diverse trainers for the NI ELVIS II DAQ are found in undergraduate engineering labs around the world.  They cover the basics of servo, process, and task-based control, as well as introducing students to flight control, bio-instrumentation and the sensors used in mechatronic systems. Using them gives undergraduate students experience working on challenging and industrially-relevant problems that can be applied to current and future technology. They help educators teach effectively even as their relatively small footprint optimizes lab space.

To learn more about our QNET offerings, click here.  And stay tuned to this blog for upcoming posts about the six individual QNET trainers.

 - Peter Martin

Peter Martin is a Curriculum Developer at Quanser

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How To Build An Efficient Controls Teaching Lab With One, Flexible, Turn-Key Platform

The Rotary Servo and Linear Motion Control Labs are two of the world's most popular, flexible and modular solutions for teaching controls. 
Engineering educators and students who use either one find themselves working with a robust, optimized and integrated workstation that offers peace of mind, versatility and maximum efficiency. 
Both labs come complete with all the components and peripherals you need.  Taken together, those components and peripherals form a complete turn-key platform that will allow you to offer a broad, dynamic controls education.  That platform consists of five key elements.

The five key elements in our NI-based turn-key controls platform are Quanser's Rapid Control Prototyping Toolkit,  Quanser courseware and pre-designed VIs, the individual Quanser experiment and amplifier, Quanser's Q1-cRIO module, and the NI CompactRIO.
Quanser Rapid Control Prototyping Toolkit for NI LabVIEW™
In terms of software, the turn-key controls platform is based on National Instruments LabVIEW™ and the Rapid Control Prototyping (RCP) Toolkit, a new LabVIEW™ add-on developed by Quanser. Designing and deploying high performing controllers is an intuitive and straightforward process with RCP Toolkit. Combined with the LabVIEW Control Design and Simulation and LabVIEW™ Mathscript RT Modules, Quanser RCP Toolkit is a powerful design tool spanning the spectrum from simulation to implementation.
Quanser Courseware and Pre-designed VI’s
Pedagogical curriculum is provided with every Rotary Servo workstation and most Linear Motion workstations.  The curriculum covers a wide range of popular control topics. Instructor and Student Workbooks come complete with pre-lab assignments and in-lab, step by step instructions. These materials are designed to save time on course development. Workbooks and comprehensive student assignments are ready to use right out of the box.
Quanser Experiment and Amplifier
To help your engineering students assimilate controls theory and stay motivated, create a lab that offers many workstations featuring either or both the Rotary Servo SRV02 Base Unit and Linear Servo Base Unit, along with different add-on modules. This allows you to cover a wider range of control topics, from introductory to advanced, and expose students to different hardware. Several voltage amplifiers are available to support the experiments. Small, lightweight and portable, they are ideal for all complex controls configurations related to educational or research needs.
Quanser Q1-cRIO Module
Quanser’s Q1-cRIO is a C Series data acquisition and control module designed for NI CompactRIO. It offers a convenient set of inputs and outputs that provides all channels required to control all of Quanser’s experiments. Several other data acquisition and interfacing options are available, targeting both NI CompactRIO and Microsoft Windows® platforms.

National Instruments CompactRIO
NI CompactRIO offers an embedded, deterministic real-time platform on which control algorithms can be deployed, and real-world signals interfaced to via the Quanser Q1-cRIO module. Workstations for the Rotary Servo and Linear Motion Control Labs can also be based on Windows® PC controllers. 
Achieve a New Level of Efficiency and Effectiveness in Teaching Controls, Robotics and Mechatronics

Get Your Lab Up and Running Immediately: Both Rotary Servo and Linear Motion Control Labs based on this platform are designed for quick, repeated assembly and disassembly. Plug and play connectors and provided cables allow students or lab technicians to make fast, error-free connections when setting up a control workstation. There is no need to strip wires or solder custom cables.

Quality and Precision You Can Rely On: You can count on the workstation components to perform semester after semester, even when handled by the most enthusiastic students.

Ongoing Tech Support: Whether your lab requires months or years to complete, you can rely on support from Quanser and National Instruments. Count on little or no downtime since the same engineers who designed and built both Control Labs are available to offer rapid assistance.

The Right Partners: As academic specialists, Quanser and National Instruments are uniquely placed to help meet the challenges facing engineering faculties. 

Contact us today at to help design your control lab.