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Incorporating PlutoSDR in the Communication Laboratory and Classroom: Potential or Pitfall?

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 7

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


John E. Post P.E. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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John. E. Post received the B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University in 1981, the M.S. degree in engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991, and the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 2005.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army in December, 1981 and served on active duty until his retirement as a lieutenant colonel in June, 2006. His military service included two tours as an Instructor and later Assistant Professor with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. His final military assignment was as Chief of Engineering with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Test Division at Kirtland AFB, NM. After retiring from the military, he joined the Computer, Electrical, and Software Engineering Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, AZ, where he is an Associate Professor and currently serving as Chair. His research interests include design and optimization of planar microwave circuits and devices, optimizing the design of low-noise microwave amplifiers, and engineering education.
Dr. Post is a senior member of IEEE. He is currently serving as the faculty advisor for the Embry-Riddle IEEE Student Chapter. He is also a Registered Professional Engineer of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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Dennis A. Silage Temple University

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Dennis Silage received the PhD in EE from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Temple University, teaches digital data communication, digital signal and image processing and embedded processing systems. Dr. Silage is past chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Division of ASEE, recipient of the 2007 ASEE National Outstanding Teaching Award and the 2011 ASEE ECE Division Meritorious Service Award. He is a Life Member of ASEE and a Life Senior Member of the IEEE.

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The falling price and growing capability of student owned equipment fostering the open laboratory paradigm is revolutionizing the curriculum of many undergraduate analog and digital communication courses in electrical engineering. Among other possibilities, student owned portable equipment facilitates hands-on experiential learning and provides the opportunity to flip the laboratory to increase student engagement. Up until now, this trend has had reduced impact in the area of analog and digital communications because the most capable equipment (such as the Universal Software Radio Peripheral or USRP platform) was too expensive, and inexpensive equipment (such as the ubiquitous RTL SDR dongle) lacked the necessary features for full transceiver implementation. Currently retailing for $99, the Analog Devices ADALM-Pluto (or Active Learning Module PlutoSDR) appears to have the potential to bridge the gap between these two extremes. PlutoSDR is based on the Analog Devices AD9363 RF agile transceiver. This transceiver provides up to 20 MHz of tunable channel bandwidth between 325 MHz to 3.8 GHz, although it is possible to extend the lower frequency range down to 70 MHz in at least one application. It is capable of transmitting or receiving 61.44 MSPS in full duplex using separate receive and transmit channels. PlutoSDR has a compact form-factor, is USB powered, and can be controlled by a variety of software packages such as MATLAB, Simulink, or GNU Radio through the USB port, or by custom Hardware Description Language (HDL) software loaded onto PlutoSDR’s internal Xilinx Zynq System-on-Chip device. Although the PlutoSDR can only legally transmit on Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) bands, experimenters who hold Amateur Radio licenses are able to exploit a much wider frequency range and applications of the PlutoSDR. Additionally, the PlutoSDR provides easily incorporated spectrum analyzer capabilities for emphasizing spectral properties of analog and digital modulation during lectures. This paper will explore potential opportunities, benefits, and pitfalls to be avoided, of incorporating PlutoSDR in the classroom and open laboratory environments. We begin by reviewing the PlutoSDRs hardware capability and limitations and setup requirements. Next, example communication laboratories and demonstrations using PlutoSDR and MATLAB, Simulink, and GNU Radio will be described. Finally, two semester’s worth of student observations and comments on incorporating PlutoSDR into the student experience from XX XX University at XX, XX are presented.

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Post, J. E., & Silage, D. A. (2018, June), Incorporating PlutoSDR in the Communication Laboratory and Classroom: Potential or Pitfall? Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30647

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