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Development Of A "Smart" Sensor: An Integrated Instrumentation Course Project

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Project-Based Student Learning: Part II

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.468.1 - 14.468.11



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Paper Authors


Jay Porter Texas A&M University

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Jay R. Porter joined the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University in 1998 and is currently the Program Director for the Electronics and Telecommunications Programs. He received the BS degree in electrical engineering (1987), the MS degree in physics (1989), and the Ph.D. in electrical engineering (1993) from Texas A&M University. His areas of interest in research and education include product development, analog/RF electronics, instrumentation, and entrepreneurship.

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Joseph Morgan Texas A&M University

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Joseph A. Morgan has over 20 years of military and industry experience in electronics and telecommunications systems engineering. He joined the Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution Department in 1989 and has served as the Program Director of the Electronics and Telecommunications Programs and as the Associate Department Head for Operations. He received his BS degree in electrical engineering (1975) from California State University, Sacramento, and his MS (1980) and DE (1983) degrees in industrial engineering from Texas A&M University. His education and research interests include project management, innovation and entrepreneurship, and embedded product/system development.

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Wei Zhan Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Wei Zhan is an Assistant Professor of Electronics Engineering Technology at Texas A&M University. Dr. Zhan earned his D.Sc. in Systems Science from Washington University in 1991. From 1995 to 2006, he worked in the automotive industry as a system engineer. In 2006 He joined the Electronics Engineering Technology faculty at Texas A&M University. His research activities include control system theory and applications to industry, system engineering, robust design, modeling, simulation, quality control, and optimization.

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

Development of a “Smart” Sensor: An Integrated Instrumentation Course Project


The instrumentation course at Texas A&M University has and will continue to follow a traditional format, teaching the students about sensor technology, signal conditioning, digitization, and finally signal processing techniques. In addition, with the program’s new emphasis on distributed process control, information on smart sensors and industry-standard instrumentation buses is included. However, because the Programs are in the process of developing a strong emphasis in the area of product/system development, the instrumentation course has also been identified as an excellent place to have students bring together for the first time, the knowledge they have been developing in analog, digital and software design. In addition, it is also the best place in the curriculum to introduce the students to product design principles for the first time and have them develop a fully-functional prototype of an electronics product.

To this end, while the lecture portion of the course still covers traditional instrumentation topics, the faculty has developed a new course project that integrates all of these elements into a comprehensive learning experience where the students design, implement and test a networked “smart” sensor. The project not only requires the students to design and simulate a sensor with signal conditioning, they also have to interface their sensor to a microcontroller, interface the microcontroller to an instrumentation bus, and write the software necessary to process their sensor data and communicate via Modbus protocol to a process control supervisory system. In addition, the students use CAD tools to design a printed circuit board for the working prototype they have to build at the end of the course. This paper will present this new course project in detail including the problem statement, the tools/processes used by the students, and the final deliverable required at the end of the course. In addition, lessons learned, student feedback, and future work will be discussed.


Over the past five years, the Electronics and Telecommunications faculty have moved the focus of their programs towards product/system development. While the Programs will always deliver a well-rounded curriculum that prepares students for general careers in the Electronics and Telecommunication industries; the faculty believes, like many other programs, in the importance of producing graduates that understand innovation and entrepreneurship as well as the technical/engineering fundamentals.1,2 For this reason, the curriculum has been changed over time to provide students with the requisite technical expertise and a strong background in project management that allows them to understand the planning process behind product and system development. Since 2002, the Programs have refined their capstone design course sequence to require all students to: form a team that will function as a small startup company; identify an idea for a product or system; locate sponsorship and find a faculty advisor; plan their efforts using project management principles and develop a formal proposal to sell their idea; and finally implement their design through a working prototype and complete documentation package3.

Porter, J., & Morgan, J., & Zhan, W. (2009, June), Development Of A "Smart" Sensor: An Integrated Instrumentation Course Project Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5346

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