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A Reproducible Solution for Implementing Online Laboratory Systems Through Inexpensive and Open-source Technology

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Experimentation and Laboratory-oriented Studies Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies

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Paper Authors


Philip Jackson University of Florida

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Dr. Philip B. Jackson earned B.S. degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering as well as an M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, all from the University of Florida. He is currently a faculty member at the Institute for Excellence in Engineering Education at the University of Florida. There he specializes in implementing innovative methods of instruction in undergraduate courses on dynamics, heat transfer, and thermodynamics. His research interests include numerical heat transfer, fluids, and magnetohydrodynamic simulations and facilitating undergraduate students to engage in similar projects. He is also focused in the implementation of engineering freshman design experiences.

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Joshua Rudaitis University of Florida

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Mr. Joshua Rudaitis is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Florida. He is pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering and is expected to graduate in December of 2020. He is performing undergraduate research at his University, focusing on Networking and Remote Systems. His main areas of professional interest within the field of Software Engineering include Embedded Systems, Networking, and Application Development.

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Laboratory components are a crucial part of students’ educational curriculum and new advancements by the manner in which content is served must be made. With coursework increasingly being performed online sans labs, students are left with a disjointed experience. In order to facilitate the transition to a ‘digital-first’ future, remote educational laboratory infrastructures must be pursued. This paper outlines a solution which is easily reproducible, cost effective and open source where possible. Benefits of utilizing an online laboratory system compared to its traditional counterpart include increased flexibility in lab hours and decreased cost to educational organizations. By using an online system, students will have the ability to perform autonomous lab work at all times of day. With an isolated online environment fewer resources such as faculty and TA time, dedicated rooms, and lab equipment will be needed. Additionally, since a larger subset of students can have access to remote labs, as room sizes are no longer a bottleneck, the cost per lab session naturally decreases. The construction of the remote laboratory system will be divided into two key phases: hardware and software. The hardware of the lab system will be comprised of easily obtainable components such as Raspberry Pis, USB cameras, and Analog/Digital GPIO interfaces. One possible use case includes a water-flow-rate laboratory exercise, where a remote user is able to control and/or measure the temperature, pressure, and flow rate of the system. Similar setups can be created for labs in hydrodynamics, fluid-mechanics, thermodynamics, and others. Regarding software, the framework of the lab system will consist of front-end, back-end, networking, and embedded code. For the front-end, a server-hosted website will present the user with an intuitive UI that encourages interaction. The back-end will provide a means of securely authenticating requests to communicate with the hardware, thereby limiting traffic and helping to prevent DDoS attacks. The networking software will act as a courier as it travels between the hardware and the front-end via sockets and HTTP API calls. Finally, embedded code will handle the hardware interaction. The project software is written in higher level languages such as Python and JavaScript. By the end of this project, one should have a modular and easily deployable remote lab solution capable of interacting with traditional equipment over network connections. By leveraging existing, open-source technology to the furthest extent possible, the net result will be a highly effective system which provides fiscal relief to educational institutions and a modern medium in which students can learn.

Jackson, P., & Rudaitis, J. (2020, June), A Reproducible Solution for Implementing Online Laboratory Systems Through Inexpensive and Open-source Technology Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34043

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