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A Simple Digital Logic Project For Freshman Engineering

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.84.1 - 10.84.10



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Paper Authors

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David Doucette

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Gunter Georgi

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session Number ______ ASEE Paper # 2005-0659

A Simple Digital Logic Project for Freshman Engineering David R. Doucette, Gunter W. Georgi, and Lorcan M. Folan Polytechnic University


Like many other schools, Polytechnic University has developed robotics projects using commercial products such as Robolab for its Freshman Engineering course. These projects have been well-received by many students1. However, some Freshman students have commented that they wanted something more related to Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering.

To meet this demand, we have developed a project for digital logic design that uses a model train set. The project uses a train layout with several express and local tracks, with paths blocked with freight cars. The student uses sensor inputs from the layout to determine which track sections are occupied, and to find a path for a locomotive to follow from one end of the layout to the other. Digital logic is used to find the path, and to actually throw train switches to have the locomotive follow the proper route.

Students are familiar with model trains, and actually driving the switches with the logic they design captures their interest. The basics of simple logic design can be covered quickly and implemented using LabVIEW® without getting into circuit analysis. The track layout that is employed provides a challenge in finding the optimal route, but at the same time is not overwhelming to the student. It can also be the basis for a lively design competition.


As part of its membership in the NSF Gateway Coalition, Polytechnic devised an “Introduction to Engineering” course required of all students in the Freshman year, with most students taking the course in the first term. The charter of the course is to provide a “hands on” approach to engineering to complement the theory they are learning in their other courses, and also to give the students a better idea of what engineering is. A major component of this course is a term-long design project. Early in the term, the student is presented with a range of options for projects including the design of a house, several robotics projects using Robolab and, more recently, a project in digital logic design. This project was added due to requests from students to have a project involving Electrical Engineering or Computer Engineering. The student must choose a project by the third week of the term, which means that students usually pick projects based on personal interests rather than technical expertise. In addition, typically they will not be seeing courses in their majors (e.g. “Introduction to Logic Design”) until much later, meaning that they have little theoretical background to apply to the project. It has also been our experience that these students are really making a transition to college at this point, so the project has to have a “fun” content in order to keep the student enthusiastic and hold their attention. In order for them to gain an idea of what engineering is, the project should also allow different technical

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Doucette, D., & Georgi, G. (2005, June), A Simple Digital Logic Project For Freshman Engineering Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15385

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