Asee peer logo

A Laboratory Project Introducing Basic Microprocessor Hardware and Software for an Introductory Undergraduate ECE Class for Non-Majors

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

ELOS Poster Session

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.51.1 - 22.51.10

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Brennan T. Ashton Worcester Polytechnic Institute

visit author page

Sophomore in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

visit author page

author page

Paul Malmsten Worcester Polytechnic Institute


Gautam Vallabha MathWorks

visit author page

Gautam K. Vallabha received the B.S. (1995) degree in Electrical and
Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh,
USA, and the Ph.D. (2003) degree in Complex Systems and Brain
Sciences from Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, USA. From
2003 to 2007, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for the
Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon University and at the
Department of Psychology at Stanford University, specializing in
neural network models of speech perception and language learning. He
is currently employed at MathWorks (Natick, USA).

visit author page


Sergey N. Makarov Worcester Polytechnic Institute

visit author page

Submitting author:
Sergey N. Makarov earned his B.S./M.S./Ph.D./Dr.Sci. degrees at the State University, St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russian Federation. Faculty of Mathematics and Mechanics. Dr. Makarov joined the Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics at State University, St. Petersburg in 1986 as a researcher and then joined the Faculty of State University, St. Petersburg where he became a full professor in 1996. In 2000, he joined the Faculty of Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MA. His current teaching interests include fundamental ECE classes.

visit author page

Download Paper |


A laboratory project introducing basic microprocessor hardware and software for an introductory undergraduate ECE class for non-majorsMost electrical and computer engineering departments in the United States and abroad typicallyoffer a fundamental one or two-semester course in ECE for non-major students. Sometimes, thiscourse is offered to both majors and non-majors. In general, it is a very difficult task to teachcomplex electrical engineering concepts, including circuit theory, semiconductor fundamentalsand digital fundamentals in one course. Therefore, the intro class for non-majors (or for bothmajors and non-majors) is frequently devoted to circuit fundamentals only.This scenario creates a visible dissatisfaction, especially among ME majors, who wish to beexposed to modern microprocessor basics as early as possible, even in their first ECE class. Thesame trend is observed for ECE majors when both classes are combined together. The exposureto microprocessors is thus not only beneficial for the intro class, but it may also stimulate furtherlong-term interest in ECE and Robotics. On the other hand, the systematic study of digitalfundamentals in the intro class may not be possible as it would require a significant extension ofthe already tight syllabus. What could be done to resolve this dilemma?This paper reports on our pedagogic method of introducing the microprocessor material on oneparticular class laboratory in an engaging yet technically correct way that is particularlyappealing to non-major students. The laboratory syllabus includes the following steps: 1. The base circuit is a voltage divider with a 1000:1 resistor ratio (a channel) that attenuates a digital signal from a microprocessor to a low level. 2. The digital decoder is an op-amp comparator. 3. Using a custom MATLAB toolkit and a PICkit 1 board ($30) a group of students writes a simple MATLAB code (3-4 lines) and downloads the code to an inexpensive Microchip PIC microcontroller. The code generates an ASCII character (a capital letter from A to Z) with a certain repetition rate. 4. The groups then exchange programmed microcontrollers und use them as signal sources for the attenuator. The final goal is to decode the unknown letter using the oscilloscope. 5. As a result, students almost instantly gain a greater appreciation of digital circuit behavior and understand importance of the related software.The “heart” of this laboratory is a custom MATLAB toolkit that allows a student to write aMATLAB program and execute it on an inexpensive Microchip PIC microcontroller. This toolkitis jointly designed by our school and MathWorks, Inc. We shall describe our experience with thetoolkit in an introductory course offered during Fall 2010/Spring 2011 (about 250 students total)and the corresponding assessment results. In addition, we will discuss the basic design of thetoolkit (which will be made freely available) and how it may be used for more advanced coursesas well.

Ashton, B. T., & Malmsten, P., & Vallabha, G., & Makarov, S. N. (2011, June), A Laboratory Project Introducing Basic Microprocessor Hardware and Software for an Introductory Undergraduate ECE Class for Non-Majors Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015