June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
Computers in Education
24.546.1 - 24.546.12
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
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