Asee peer logo

The Light Tracker: An Off The Shelf Control Design Project

Download Paper |


1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.531.1 - 4.531.7

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Bradley E. Bishop

author page

George E. Piper

author page

Richard T. O'Brien

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2532

The Light Tracker: An Off-the-Shelf Control Design Project

Bradley E. Bishop, George E. Piper, Richard T. O’Brien Weapons and Systems Engineering, United States Naval Academy


This paper describes the development of an off-the-shelf design project in applied control. The project is aimed toward developing insight into the design process through an open-ended, hands-on experimental procedure. Reinforcement of classroom topics and introduction to the difficulties of real design are emphasized. Particular focus is placed on the flow of system development, from problem statement, component selection and system identification through implementation and tuning of a PD controller. This design project has been integrated into the junior level curriculum in the Systems Engineering department at the United States Naval Academy.

1. Introduction

It is well known that classroom discussion of the theory of control can be greatly enhanced through appropriate experimental investigations. Students unable to grasp the concepts of feedback and system response through lectures are often more receptive to hands-on demonstrations and investigations. Further, many topics relating to the process of system design are difficult at best to teach in a lecture format. It is extremely challenging to motivate in the classroom the difficulties of real implementation of control systems to be designed based only on system specifications.

Design projects are, by nature, motivational and instructive, drawing all facets of classroom discussion together in a unified procedure. While it is often instructive to perform theoretical design projects, the combination of theoretical development and experimental verification is an excellent tool for enhancing the learning experience, and gives the student ownership of the final result, and insight into the difference between theory and application.

It is possible to generate design projects that are too unstructured for the average junior level student to complete successfully. Similarly, it is easy to generate a design project that incorporates too much structure, stifling creativity and returning the students to the step-by-step procedure following framework of traditional laboratories. The goal of our design project development is to generate a lightly-structured problem and set of investigations that allow independent though and effort, but incorporate enough guidance that the relatively inexperienced experimentalist can succeed and learn.

The test bed that we have chosen to investigate is the design and implementation of a one-axis light tracking system. The light tracker system is an electro-mechanical device intended to perform fixation on a mobile light source. Students perform component and system identification, sensor calibration, signal conditioning and control of DC motors.

Bishop, B. E., & Piper, G. E., & O'Brien, R. T. (1999, June), The Light Tracker: An Off The Shelf Control Design Project Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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: © 1999 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