Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Computers in Education
Design of A Virtual Laboratory for Automation Control
While online education provides many new opportunities and resources to students and professionals, one limitation of existing online education is the lack of laboratory exercises. Online educational resources often concentrate on teaching theoretical concepts, such as proving theorems or solving equations, and have very little or none coverage of laboratories. Laboratory courses are an essential component of science and engineering education as they provide hands-on experiences that are similar to real world problems. Students often learn more from lab exercises than purely theoretical problems. One approach to compensate the deficiency of online education’s lack of laboratories is to provide recorded videos of the real labs so that students can at least watch the process that the lab is conducted. However, students still need real laboratory environments to practice the skills learned in the videos. One approach that holds great potential to enhance laboratory experience for online education is the use of computer-based modeling and simulation tools. Simulation based virtual laboratories emulate lab equipment and configurations in highly realistic 3D environments and can provide very effective learning experiences.
This paper presents the design and development of Virtual Lab, a simulation application for completing programmable control logic (PLC) using electrical and pneumatic components. we developed the original version of Virtual Lab for programmable logic controller (PLC) wiring lab in an automation and control class. While the original version of Virtual Lab received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the students and course instructor, it only contained mechanical and electrically controlled switches and it was developed using Microsoft XNA Game Studio, a game development engine Microsoft stopped supporting in 2014. The latest version of Virtual Lab was developed to expand its capabilities by including pneumatic control components using the latest game development technologies. Unity is a leading game engine with a wide range of advanced capabilities and provides a natural choice for continuing development of Virtual Lab. Virtual Lab now supports a wide array of pneumatic components, such as single-acting cylinder, air divider, 3/2 directional control valve, and 5/2 solenoid control valve. Other new important features of Virtual Lab include direct 3D drag and drop manipulations of lab devices and components, more camera views (e.g., orbit tool), a more user friendly graphical interfaces, as well as a more realistic rendition of the lab environment. Students can now use it to perform wiring circuits, just like on-campus students, using combined electro-pneumatic experiments. Virtual Lab has been deployed for Windows personal computers and Android mobile devices. Future development of Virtual Lab will include a web version that will run directly inside web browsers and expansion to virtual reality devices (e.g., zSpace and Oculus Rift) and augmented reality devices (e.g., Microsoft HoloLens).
Zhu, Z., & Shen, Y., & Lin, C. Y., & Ren, S., & Smith, K., & Dean, A. W. (2018, June), Design of a Virtual Laboratory for Automation Control Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30267
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