June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Computers in Education
14.1258.1 - 14.1258.13
The Ubiquitous Microcontroller in Mechanical Engineering Introduction
This paper will describe a project aimed at integrating the teaching of microcontroller skills in several classes throughout the mechanical engineering curriculum at the California Maritime Academy, a specialized campus of the California State University.
The goal of the project is to design microcontroller courseware, hardware, and software that will be used in three classes in the ME curriculum, so that the students gain familiarity with common microcontroller systems and applications without taking a special elective. The hardware design must be useful for classes and laboratories including programming, electronic circuits, measurement systems, control systems and mechatronics. Finding a common platform to use in many classes allows the instruction time devoted to microcontrollers to be distributed so that the new topic can be added without cutting significantly into the existing curriculum.
Microcontrollers are becoming ubiquitous in many modern products and machinery, due to their ability to perform complex electronic functions with low cost, and understanding how to use these systems is a valuable skill set for any engineer. Having the ability to design simple microcontroller systems will give a mechanical engineer the ability to forego employing an electrical engineer and to be responsible for the entire design of many mechatronic devices, as inexpensive microcontrollers replace discrete electronic component designs. For example, a microcontroller may be used to read an analog sensor and control a display or an actuator, a simple task ideally suited to an inexpensive microcontroller, and one that can be implemented with only basic microcontroller experience. Microcontroller technology is new enough that recent graduates can successfully compete with more senior engineers who have never learned to design with microcontrollers.
Rather than taking one microcontroller class near their senior year, the students at the California Maritime Academy will be exposed to microcontrollers as early as their freshman or sophomore years, and will gain experience with the same hardware and development tools in several classes. There are several advantages to this approach compared to adding a stand alone technical elective to the curriculum.
The primary advantage is that students learn the material early in their education and have a developed skill set ready to apply to capstone design projects. The background knowledge needed to learn microcontrollers does not require typical engineering prerequisites such as calculus or dynamics. Assuming that microcontroller programming (programming in C) will be taught as part of the microcontroller curriculum, only basic computer skills are needed from the students. Most incoming students have the knowledge to get started in microcontrollers.
Another advantage is that the students will learn these skills without adding classes to the curriculum. At the California Maritime Academy, as in most engineering programs, the student course load is at a maximum and to add material requires removing other material. There simply
Holden, M. (2009, June), The Ubiquitous Microcontroller In Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/5125
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