June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
22.51.1 - 22.51.10
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.
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