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The Ubiquitous Microcontroller In Mechanical Engineering: Measurement Systems

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Embedded Computing

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1275.1 - 13.1275.11

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Paper Authors


Michael Holden California Maritime Academy

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Michael Holden teaches in the department of Mechanical Engineering at the California State University Maritime Academy.

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

The Ubiquitous Microcontroller in Mechanical Engineering: Measurement Systems

Introduction This paper will describe a project aimed at integrating microcontrollers in several classes throughout the mechanical engineering curriculum at the California State University Maritime Academy (CMA). The goal is to give our students useful skills that will help distinguish them from other job candidates. Microcontroller technology is new enough that recent graduates can successfully compete with more senior engineers who have never learned to design with microcontrollers.

Microcontrollers are becoming ubiquitous in many modern products and machinery, due to their ability to perform complex electronic functions for low cost, and understanding how to use these systems is a valuable skill set for any engineer. While some projects will require an electrical engineer to implement the microcontroller design, having the ability to design simple microcontroller systems will give a mechanical engineer the ability 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 an output display or actuator, a simple task ideally suited to an inexpensive microcontroller, and one that can be implemented with only basic microcontroller experience.

The goal of the project is to design microcontroller hardware, software, and courseware that will be used in several 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.

Rather than taking one microcontroller class near their senior year, the students will be exposed to microcontrollers as early as their freshman or sophomore years, and will gain experience with the same hardware in several classes. There are several advantages to this approach compared to adding a standalone 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. There is not much prerequisite knowledge needed to learn microcontrollers (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 learn the skills without adding classes to the curriculum. At CMA, as in most engineering programs, the student course load is at a maximum and to add material requires removing other material. There simply isn’t room in the curriculum for another class, so either electives must be traded or the microcontroller skills must be taught in existing classes.

Holden, M. (2008, June), The Ubiquitous Microcontroller In Mechanical Engineering: Measurement Systems Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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