Friday, July 26, 2013

Build a World-Class, Multi-Station, Undergrad Lab on a Budget

If you wanted to teach people the fundamentals of how to drive and had to buy new cars to support your business, what would be the most sensible purchase: several low cost compact cars, or one large, high performance vehicle that costs as much as the compact cars put together? Of course the answer is obvious.

That kind of simple, cost-effective thinking is what drove Quanser to design the new QUBE™-Servo, a low cost, self-contained servomotor solution for teaching introductory control in undergraduate labs. For about the cost of a single Quanser flagship Rotary Servo SRV02 base unit with a data acquisition device (DAQ), amplifier and assorted add-on experiment modules, a professor or engineering department can acquire as many as six QUBE-Servo workstations.

So, if your goal is simply to teach students “how to drive”, then a lab equipped with several QUBE-Servo stations allows you to introduce them to controls efficiently. If you need the benefits of modularity or plan to teach more advanced control topics and conduct research the SRV02-based system is the more suitable option. 

The QUBE-Servo features a self-contained USB-based DAQ interface panel (or an available direct I/O interface panel) and amplifier that can interface to LabVIEW™ or MATLAB®/Simulink® – based control software, plus two add-on experiment modules and courseware. The result: a superb multi-station, hands-on teaching lab for a surprisingly small outlay.
    Six QUBE Rotary Servo Workstations               One Rotary SRV02 Workstation
Get as many as six QUBE Rotary Servo workstations for approximately the same price as one Rotary SRV02-based workstation.
The compact QUBE-Servo offers any engineering university a new control theory teaching tool and new economies of scale. It offers advantages to schools both in developing nations and industrialized nations, since its affordability makes it an ideal way to give large numbers of students a practical, hands-on introduction to control design.

With its built-in DAQ and amplifier, and single USB cable to connect to a PC or laptop computer, it’s simple for inexperienced students to set up and use. The fact that it has a small footprint, is robust and safe to use are additional advantages that deans and professors can appreciate.

The low cost, self-contained QUBE-Servo is supplied with inertia disk and pendulum modules.

QUBE-Servo and SRV02: What’s the Difference?
The QUBE-Servo is not a replacement for the multi-purpose SRV02 Rotary Servo, any more than a compact car can outperform a high performance sports car. Their uses overlap to a degree, but they are not the same. The SRV02 Rotary Servo accepts many more add-on modules. It is highly reconfigurable and therefore suitable for research applications as well as teaching. The QUBE is, in fact, a complement to the SRV02, both functionally and economically, and can take its place alongside the SRV02 in any university control lab. 

Just as compact cars have an important place within the pool of vehicles you’ll find at driving school, a suite of compact QUBE-Servos constitute a pragmatic choice for teaching the basics of control. Any engineering institution that seeks to bring enhanced, hands-on learning experience to more and more of their students might wish to consider a test drive.

For details on pricing for a multi-station QUBE-Servo lab, contact Quanser.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What is the Most Efficient Way to Validate Your Control Research?

All around the world, researchers in such areas as flight control, unmanned vehicles, biomedical and rehabilitation robotics, haptics, industrial robotics and automation and more are using the Quanser platform as their most efficient means of developing, prototyping and refining their systems to make them ready for implementation or production.

Dr. Nejat Olgac demonstrates his research on time-delayed systems using the Quanser linear servo system at the ACC 2012 Conference.   
Why are so many of your peers choosing the Quanser platform? The reasons, with numerous supporting research examples, are found in our latest whitepaper, “The Quanser Platform for Control Systems Research Validation”, by Michel Levis, M.A.Sc., Applications Engineer, and Tom Lee, Ph.D., Chief Education Officer, both of Quanser. 

The paper presents a number of theoretical and application research examples from various institutions that have deployed Quanser equipment to validate their research in such key control research areas as Adaptive Control, Nonlinear Control, Robust Control, Optimal Control, Intelligent Fuzzy Control and System Identification.

To download a copy of the whitepaper, click here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Research and Education

In 1987, as a co-op placement, I was hired by the University of Waterloo’s Engineering Education Research Center to work on a variety of projects to enhance the effectiveness of engineering education. Over thirty years later, I continue to be fully immersed in this most interesting of fields.

I use the word “interesting” ambiguously. Of course it is interesting in the sense that the work we do appeals to me. But it is also interesting in the proverbial “may you live in interesting times” sense. 

Research in engineering education is too often a contradiction in many institutions. The word research, more often than not, applies to those familiar, hard-core technical activities where we derive one equation or another, or concoct a novel configuration of obscure theoretical concepts, to achieve some equally obscure functional goal. Research into education, however, often draws upon an interesting mix of engineering sciences and technology, and social science methodologies, and as a consequence such research tends not to be celebrated works among the core discipline-based technical societies.

The ASEE Conference is an ideal showcase for inventive solutions in engineering education.  Above: a stylized view of the Helicopter - Car Chase Challenge presented at the Quanser Innovation Hub.

ASEE: Focused on Research into Improved Engineering Education

The one exception is the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE). A large part of this venerable society’s existence focuses on the promotion and enrichment of formalized research into the improvement of engineering education. 

This past June, the ASEE held its annual meeting in Atlanta and drew upwards of 4000 academics to share their respective passion for engineering education. As in previous years, Quanser made a significant contribution, including our conventional display, our Innovation Hub in which we showcased the next rev of our visual hardware-in-the-loop application, and a variety of session activities that related to a range of contemporary topics in the field.

In many ways, the ASEE conference is the ideal showcase for the inventor spirit within Quanser. Here, the participants genuinely relish seeing weird new ideas and putting our collective imagination to the test. And this was the intent of the Quanser Innovation Hub.

The Quanser Innovation Hub: Fun Can Lead To An Effective Learning Experience

Our Innovation Hub was well received and sported a new mantra that we conceived for this conference: Imagine. Think. Compute. Build. The demonstration tied a two player video game – a helicopter pilot (the chaser) and a car driver (the chasee) – with a real time control loop tied to a Quanser 2 DOF Helicopter and the new QUBE™-Servo products

Not only did we engage the audience with the richness of experience, but we also invited real students from the University of New Mexico to showcase their contributions in the development of this system. Overall, we wanted to illustrate how fun can lead to a much more rigorous and effective learning experience.

Visitors to the Quanser Innovation Hub could hardly believe this helicopter - car chase challenge was actually a rigorous, control learning experience. Watch the video below to see their reaction.  
Another highlight was the proliferation of Quanser applications among other vendors. In addition to our two showcases, we had friends from National Instruments, Dassault Systemes, and Maplesoft among others, demonstrate unique applications of Quanser equipment married to their respective offerings. This resulted in a diversity of views and uses of Quanser devices in creative and innovative ways.

A Forum for Passionate Debate

Aside from the exhibits and the demonstration of the engineering education community’s technical capacity, the ASEE is also renowned for its ability to catalyze very passionate discussions and debates on education and education methodologies.

For me, some of the highlights include a session that I was invited to on the topic of the “Flipped” classroom -- i.e., let students learn the basics using the many off-campus media options now available, and use valuable on-campus time for direct engagement with faculty, and group activities. This, of course is the reverse of the traditional approach at a university.  

It was a great opportunity for me to reflect on the greater role that hands-on labs will have in the very near future. In a flipped world, one of the best things that an educator can do is to use the on-campus time to allow students to work with real systems and real complexity and of course that’s where Quanser can make a significant contribution.

Researching a Common Language to Communicate Complex Engineering Concepts

I also was impressed by a particular student poster presentation by Chirag Variawa, a current Ph.D. student in Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto. He presented his dissertation topic entitled “An Automated Approach for Finding Course-specific Vocabulary”. His research essentially developed an algorithmic way of identifying and managing a proper lexical and semantic foundation for the highly specialized courses, – in human-understandable terms, find a better way to establish a common language to communicate complex engineering concepts. 

As much as I like very multidimensional, richly layered approaches to education, a robust and consistent vocabulary is one of those things that seems to make all the difference in any complex, human-to-human endeavor, but is sometimes disregarded in pedagogical circles as somewhat pedantic and inelegant. I was delighted to see this young man transform the pedantic into a genuinely interesting project.

Flashing back to the late 80’s, the ASEE annual conference was also the very first time that a company (the legendary DEC in this instance) paid me to stand at a booth and demonstrate interesting things. That experience was the first time that I was able to connect the dots between my life as a student, to my emerging life as a researcher, and a foreshadow of my life as a citizen and professional. 

Yes, the optimal design of C2 continuous parametric surfaces may look great on an academic CV (this was my dissertation topic by the way), but applying the same level of intellectual vigor on a topic that one is really passionate about, that is important to a broad cross-section of society, and often triggers activities that are genuinely fun, is ultimately, for me, the best research. I am very glad that the ASEE continues to support and celebrate such activities.

- Tom Lee
Chief Education Officer, Quanser

To learn more about Quanser's Innovation Hub presentation, click below.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Quanser Method: A Way to Make Engineering Education More Effective and Relevant

The need for a truly modern framework for engineering education has never been greater. The Quanser Method™ was developed to answer that need and make teaching and research of modern control systems and mechatronic concepts more effective, relevant and efficient. 

Of particular relevance for the 21st century, the Quanser Method gives institutions that follow the conventional lecture + lab + project teaching structure a new, more engaging way of teaching engineering concepts – a way that closes the gap between theory and practice,  energizes a new and technically sophisticated generation of engineering students and aligns with current industry R & D practices.
The Quanser Method reflects the key engineering workflow found in industry, and thus provides a modern, rigorous framework for teaching and learning in academia. 

With the Quanser Method, algorithms on the page are a beginning not an end - a launch point for students to bring their control design theories to life through the use of a modern, interactive curriculum and real-time hardware-in-the-loop testbeds. 

Structured as a circle, the Quanser Method reflects the key engineering workflow found in industry, and thus provides a logical and rigorous framework for teaching and learning in academia. The workflow involves numerous steps, from mathematical modeling to control design, hardware-in-the-loop simulation and more, with all the steps resulting in a system that’s efficient, effective and ready to deploy.

To learn more, download the whitepaper “The Quanser Method”, written by Dr. Tom Lee, Ph.D., Chief Education Officer, Quanser. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Researchers Discover the Potential of the Quanser Platform at ACC 2013

Every year the American Control Conference (ACC) brings together a large and diverse group of engineering researchers and industry practitioners. Ideas are shared, challenged and debated so, clearly, the importance of this gathering cannot be overstated. 

For us at Quanser, it is a unique opportunity to learn about the latest controls research being conducted in every corner of the globe from the very men and women doing the research. For the conference delegates, it is a valuable opportunity to start conversations investigating ways Quanser can assist them in advancing their work.

Visitors to the Quanser booth examine examples of the Quanser platform in action.
A Diverse, Adaptable Research Platform Is At Your Service
Our booth at ACC 2013 was our “storefront window”. Within its limited space, it was designed to answer the question, “How is Quanser relevant to you?”, by giving visitors a starting point to understand how varied and multi-functional the Quanser platform is.

To demonstrate that point, we showcased a selection of both simple and complex experiments, starting with the low-cost, all-in-one QUBE™-Servo; and culminating with the “Iron Bird” - a Hardware-in-the-loop rapid prototyping device consisting of the Quanser 3 DOF Gyroscope and the HiQ avionics sensor board. Simulating a Quanser Qball UAV, the Iron Bird is an important incremental step towards deploying a fully functional and stable unmanned aerial system. 

These demonstrations revealed the range and quality of the Quanser platform, and were the starting points for a many one-on-one conversations with booth visitors about how our platform could serve their research. They saw that the Quanser platform is a wide-ranging, modular system of hardware and software that allow users to drop in blocks that talk to hardware, create a unique control system, then rapidly test and refine it using the software of their choice, be it MATLAB®/Simulink® or LabVIEW™.

The Quanser 3 DOF Gyroscope is a key element of our “Iron Bird” concept demonstration that caught the attention of many of our booth visitors. 

Researchers weren’t our only booth visitors. Educators saw the QUBE-Servo and its modern, mix-and-match courseware as a cost-effective path to retrofit an undergraduate control lab. The QUBE also impressed people outside the academic sphere. A number of industry practitioners, including Ford Motor Company, General Electric and others, found the QUBE so interesting they are considering using it to teach or reinforce control concepts within their companies.

At ACC 2013, we learned a great deal about the new paths researchers are taking. They in turn learned about the vast and varied Quanser research platform. Ultimately our booth visitors saw how thoroughly we could be counted on to help them advance their control research and educational goals.

To learn more about how the Quanser Platform helps validate control systems research, click here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Instructional Videos Improve the Teaching and Learning Experience with QNET Trainers

QNET trainers and the National Instruments™ ELVIS platform have long been one of the best, most economical ways to learn controls in a LabVIEW™ environment.

We recently introduced an enhanced QNET Resources – a complete set of documentation, courseware and software VIs that comes with each QNET trainer. One of its major enhancements is the addition of a collection of short instructional videos for each of the six trainers.

The videos are designed to guide students and instructors through the QNET set up procedure, but more importantly, to help students get familiar with the entire lab. They walk students through the topics and concepts covered by the QNET curriculum and link them to the practical applications of these experiments, giving students a clear and exciting idea of how the concepts they’re studying will be applied in the real world.  

The VI Overview videos help students with the ins and outs of the virtual instruments, demonstrating the VIs functionality, including potential pitfalls, and useful tools. And for the students new to LabVIEW, another video offers an overview of the basic operations that students will need to successfully perform the lab exercises. 

Watch this video that shows students real-life applications of QNET DC Motor Control experiments:

By using this set of instructional videos, students can grasp the concepts taught in a QNET-based controls course more easily. As a result, students will perform more confidently and independently in the lab, and instructors can make more effective use of their teaching time.