Asee peer logo

The Chirps Prototyping System

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Hardware Applications

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1432.1 - 22.1432.13



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Gary Spivey George Fox University

visit author page

Gary Spivey received his B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from University of Maryland at College Park.

He has served as an electronic engineer with the National Security Agency, chiefly as a special-purpose-computer and application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designer. His current research interests include FPGA system development and modular embedded systems.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The Chirps Prototyping System X State University has been a pioneer in developing a “Platform for Learning” using theirTekBots platform as a fundamental part of their electrical and computer engineering curriculum.At Y University, we fundamentally affirm this concept of a “Platform for Learning,” but weadditionally desire a “Platform for Prototyping.” By “Platform for Prototyping,” we mean aplatform that will enable our engineering students to create significant engineering projects aspart of a myriad of service-learning projects, student research, course projects, and the seniorcapstone experience. To be effective across our curriculum, this system must not only be usableby mechanical, electrical and computer engineers, but by engineering students at the end of theirfirst year in the engineering program. As it is difficult to conceive of a significant engineering application that does not have someform of embedded control system, it is almost imperative that these students obtain the ability tounderstand and control some form of an embedded control system early in the curriculum. Thispresents some challenges. Many embedded processing systems make use of one microcontrollercontrolling a variety of sensors and actuators, requiring that one microcontroller program bewritten to control every detail of the embedded system. Even simple embedded systems canrequire a multitude of tiny details including modulation for multiple infrared sensors, pulse-width modulation control for various dc and servo motors, and interfaces to various componentssuch as LCD displays and wireless interfaces. This level of programming sophistication isgenerally reserved for upper-division ECE courses where interrupts and timers are discussed ingreat detail.To address these issues, we have developed a distributed embedded processing system called“Chirps.” Chirps are a suite of boards that can communicate with one another using shortcommand bursts, or “chirps.” Rather than having a central controller that needs to manage pulse-width-modulation and encoder processing for a variety of motors, a Chirp system will contain aChirps motor controller board that can be accessed using simple commands such as “MoveForward 100 ticks.” This Chirp abstraction will provide users the ability to rapidly assemble andcontrol larger systems (such as robots) from Chirp modules and easily control them using“chirps.” Although detailed functions are moved to individual control boards, a central controllermust still be provided to control the system and send and receive “chirps.” For this purpose, wehave enhanced the very popular open-source suite of hardware and software provided by theArduino project. The Chirps controllers are built on the foundation of the Arduino Diecimilaboard, with a power and communication interface added to facilitate the “chirp” system.In the first-year engineering sequence, students are taught how to program the basic controllerand make calls to the various Chirps boards. Upper-division ECE students develop new Chirpsboards as part of the microprocessor course. These boards are targeted toward the needs of thevarious projects being developed throughout the curriculum. Using the Chirps system, YUniversity engineering can rapidly prototype and control a variety of significant engineeringsystems.

Spivey, G. (2011, June), The Chirps Prototyping System Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18438

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: © 2011 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