June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
14.163.1 - 14.163.13
Advanced Digital Laboratory: An FPGA-Based Remote Laboratory for Teaching Digital Electronics
The experimentation component of most Science and Engineering curricula in Nigeria is inadequate. In Obafemi Awolowo University for example, undergraduate students typically carry out around five assignments related to digital electronics, and there is no treatment whatsoever of Field Programmable Gate Arrays(FPGAs). In the research work being reported, an attempt has been made to develop a remote laboratory though which the number of digital electronics experiments students carry out can be increased.
The remote laboratory, called the Advanced Digital Lab (ADLab), allows students to synthesis digital systems on an FPGA with a hardware description language. To achieve this, a development board with an Altera Cyclone II FPGA is connected to a computer implementing the server tier of the iLab batched architecture. The client through which the remote student interacts with the ADLab is implemented with Java, which allows for a reasonable amount of platform independence.
This paper discusses the software and hardware aspects of the ADLab architecture and gives some insight into some design decisions. The paper also reports that the system is being tested at Obafemi Awolowo University and that student feedback so far indicates high student satisfaction with the remote laboratory.
Keywords: iLab, ADLab, FPGA, remote laboratory
I. Experimentation and Remote Laboratories
When applied within an engineering curriculum, experimentation is supposed to achieve specific goals. It allows students to develop skills in any combination of up to 13 distinct categories1. Three main elements are required for experimentation in the context of engineering education: the student, the system under test (including associated test equipment), and the laboratory, which is a location or means though which the student can access and manipulate the system under test.
Traditionally, to work on the system under test, students need to be physically present in the laboratory. In recent years however, a set of techniques and tools have made it possible for the student to access laboratory hardware without being at the same physical location or time as the equipment. Such a laboratory in which there is a spatial or temporal displacement between the student and the system under test is generally referred to as a remote laboratory2. A remote laboratory is thus a version of a classical in-situ laboratory geared towards distance learning environments. Remote laboratories facilitate a flexible learning approach, which is the key to successful hands-on experimentation 3.
Motivations for remote laboratory development include 2, 4, 5 allowing:
≠ sharing of heavy and expensive instruments and equipments between institutions ≠ anytime and anywhere lab access
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