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Impact of an Embedded Systems Course on Undergraduate Capstone Projects

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Embedded Systems & Cybersecurity for ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Maddumage Karunaratne University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown

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Dr. Maddumage Karunaratne is an Associate Professor and the Head of the Electrical Engineering Technology department at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, PA. The department offers two undergraduate degrees in Electrical Engineering Technology and Computer Engineering Technology. Dr. Karunaratne earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Moratuwa (Sri Lanka), a Master of Science from the University of Mississippi (Oxford), and a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona (Tucson).

Before joining academia, he gained fourteen years of extensive industry experience working in the semiconductor industry performing software development, application engineering, design, testing and verification of digital integrated circuits. He has taught electrical and general engineering technology classes at Pitt-Johnstown since 2004.

His research and teaching interests include Semiconductor circuit Testing and Verification, Low Power Design Analysis, Digital and Embedded Systems, Electromagnetic Wave Scattering, and IC Design Automation Software development. He has authored or coauthored 29 publications and 3 US patents.

He can be reached at
209 Engineering and Science Building
University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
Johnstown, PA 15904

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When electrical (EE) and computer engineers (COE) are trained, it is imperative that nearly all acquire some level of exposure to microcontrollers and associated software development skills to effectively function as engineers in their careers. At this university, electrical engineering and computer engineering majors take a one-semester course in microcontrollers to learn embedded system development in their junior year. In prior semesters, they take two programming courses and an electronics course. This embedded course is designed to teach data acquisition techniques, detail hardware operations in data processing, and how to drive peripheral components. While there are many choices of microcontroller development boards such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino, this embedded course and associated labs use hardware development boards based on Freescale (NXP) devices due to their simplicity and legacy.

The same EE and COE students take a mandatory capstone design project course spanning two semesters in their senior year. Students, individually or in groups of two, propose a few engineering problems to the faculty at the start of the first semester. After several iterations involving discussions with the faculty, each group selects one project to build a prototype to demonstrate the solution. In the first semester, they complete the engineering design steps producing documents for the selected project to develop a final design solution. Each group eventually completes the project work with a live demonstration at the end of the second semester.

This paper briefly explains the structure of the capstone project course for EE and COE seniors, and the design milestones. The author offers and discusses results from a survey conducted on senior students in a capstone project course taken by both EE and COE students. The survey and the follow-up discussion attempts to determine whether the embedded systems course influenced or facilitated the selection of microcontroller based projects compared to other types of projects. Another objective is to see if the teaching level on the application of microcontroller boards may be reduced since the public domain offers a vast amount of open source libraries to do almost anything related to them and associated peripheral components.

Karunaratne, M. (2019, June), Impact of an Embedded Systems Course on Undergraduate Capstone Projects Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida.

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