Asee peer logo

Evaluation of an Introductory Embedded Systems Programming Tutorial using Hands-on Learning Methods

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Computer Programming and Simulation

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.546.1 - 24.546.12



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Gregorio E. Drayer Georgia Institute of Technology

visit author page

Gregorio (a.k.a. Greg) is electrical engineer and magister in systems engineering from Simon Bolivar University (USB) in Caracas, Venezuela. He received academic tenure in 2009 with the Department of Processes and Systems at USB. At the time of this submission, Greg recently earned his Ph.D. from School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with a minor in Aerospace Engineering, at Georgia Tech, sponsored by the first International Fulbright Science and Technology Scholarship awarded to a Venezuelan by the U.S. Department of State. His advisor is Dr. Ayanna M. Howard, director of the Human-Automation Systems Laboratory. Greg is member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). He has served as referee for IEEE Transactions on Fuzzy Systems, the journal of the Faculty of Engineering at the Central University of Venezuela, and the International Conference on Environmental Systems.

visit author page


Ayanna M. Howard Georgia Institute of Technology

visit author page

Ayanna Howard is the Motorola Foundation Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She received her B.S. in Engineering from Brown University, her M.S.E.E. from the University of Southern California, and her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1999. Her area of research is centered around the concept of humanized intelligence, the process of embedding human cognitive capability into the control path of autonomous systems. This work, which addresses issues of autonomous control as well as aspects of interaction with humans and the surrounding environment, has resulted in over 130 peer-reviewed publications in a number of projects – from scientific rover navigation in glacier environments to assistive robots for the home. To date, her unique accomplishments have been highlighted through a number of awards and articles, including highlights in USA Today, Upscale, and TIME Magazine, as well as being named a MIT Technology Review top young innovator of 2003, recognized as NSBE Educator of the Year in 2009, and receiving the Georgia-Tech Outstanding Interdisciplinary Activities Award in 2013. From 1993-2005, Dr. Howard was at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Following this, she joined Georgia Tech in July 2005 and founded the Human-Automation Systems Lab. She also served as Chair of the multidisciplinary Robotics Ph.D. program at Georgia Tech for three years from 2010-2013.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Evaluation of an Introductory Embedded Systems Programming Module using Hands-on Learning MethodsThe “Internet of things” challenges engineering educators to deliver content and skills whileengaging students in hands-on projects that employ a variety of embedded computing platforms.From proprietary to open source hardware and software, from microcontrollers to embeddedoperating systems (OS) devices, students today have the opportunity to accelerate their learningpace by working on real-world projects in a supervised environment. That is the goal of a multi-disciplinary design program, called Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program, which offersundergraduate students a research and development opportunity to participate in team-orientedprojects from their sophomore to senior years. Although the majority of these interdisciplinaryteams are based on designing, programming, and deploying embedded systems in variousapplication scenarios, there is currently no common curriculum module focused on embeddedsystems programming. Currently, students rely on self-guidance in order to develop theknowledgebase necessary for achieving the goals of their team projects with respect to embeddedsystems. This typically has resulted in a steep learning-curve, especially for new students andnew teams that join the program. As such, we have developed an embedded systemsprogramming module that is applicable to the structure of the VIP program (i.e. a curriculum thatcan train students irrespective of their engineering discipline or class level). We believe thiscurriculum module will have broad impact on the academic community, at large, since we focuson extracting common knowledge that can be shared across a diverse mix of students. This paperpresents the results of our embedded systems programming module piloted with the I-NaturalVIP team, which consists of a group of 15 undergraduate students from across the engineeringdisciplines and with a mix of sophomores through seniors. The modules included a series ofthree lecture modules prepared to introduce concepts on embedded systems. The modules weretightly coupled with hands-on exercises that employed the DE2i-150 board, aimed to introducestudents to the development of digital systems based on an Altera FPGA in conjunction with anembedded OS running on an Intel Atom processor. The first module provides an overview of thevarious inputs, outputs, sensors, and displays of the board; a control panel loads an FPGAbitstream that allows students to interact and become familiar with various board components.The second module introduces an embedded OS generated with the Yocto Project; it guidesstudents in establishing a high-speed communication bridge between the Atom processor and theCyclone IV FPGA, and in performing simple tasks in a Linux-based environment, such ascompilation of a simple C/++ application. The third module focuses on implementing a customC/++ application written by students for real-time processing of inputs, making use of the PCIebus communication and a preloaded FPGA bitstream. Results show that the three lecturemodules of 30 minutes each, coupled with the hands-on projects, offer a good introduction to thecomplexity of the DE2i-150 board. Surveys collected before the first module and after the thirdshow a generally positive outcome. Recommendations for future efforts focus on incorporatingmore complex C/++ applications concurrent with FPGA development.

Drayer, G. E., & Howard, A. M. (2014, June), Evaluation of an Introductory Embedded Systems Programming Tutorial using Hands-on Learning Methods Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20437

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015