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A Virtual Laboratory For The Introductory Engineering Course

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.59.1 - 3.59.6

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Paper Authors

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Richard J. Reid

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

Session 1253

A Virtual Laboratory For The Introductory Engineering Course Professor Richard J. Reid Computer Science Department Michigan State University

Abstract - The new version of our introductory course for engineering students gives the students experience with virtual (physical) devices and has them also learn about computer-based tools for working with the underlying mathematics and physics, and for reporting their accomplishments. Students still learn about programming, but without much of the syntactic and semantic rigors of a computer language per se, as was previously emphasized.

The course includes sections on document preparation, worksheets, matrix mathematics and Visual Basic, but the emphasis is on the mathematics and science as they support engineering design.


Students come to this technical computing course usually as first or second semester freshmen. The course is required for or elected by most Engineering College students, and is completed by about 400 students each semester.

The prerequisite mathematics background is only college algebra. Other mathematics, including matrix algebra and linear recurrence relations, is introduced as needed for laboratory exercises. Numerical evaluations of distance, speed and acceleration are encountered and the relation to derivatives of polynomials is illustrated in passing (most students in the course are in their calculus courses). Statistics are encountered in exercises, but only simple probability, frequency counts and histograms are developed and used. Our intention is that, if a problem area is interesting, we will develop whatever mathematics is necessary for support using numerical examples and illustrations.

The newest feature of the course is the inclusion of laboratory exercises that require the students to use virtual devices in the laboratory, or on their own computers, and to control them and/or gather data from them. This paper reports on two of these virtual devices: a hexagonal robot, the Hexobot, and an adjustable-length pendulum.

The Hexobot

At the time course materials were being developed for this past year, Pathfinder and Sojourner were just landing on Mars. This event, and the knowledge of the growing importance of 1 mechatronics that most of our engineering students will be facing, gave rise to the Hexobot. 2 3 The Hexobot is a hexagonal robot patterned after Karel the Robot and RoBOTL . As an introduction to the Hexobot the students will be using, an actual computer-controlled robotic vehicle is demonstrated in the lecture.

Reid, R. J. (1998, June), A Virtual Laboratory For The Introductory Engineering Course Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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