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Using LEGO MINDSTORMS in a Control Systems Lab to Impact Next-generation Engineers (Work in Progress)

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre- College Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1670.1 - 26.1670.10



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Paper Authors


Charlotte De Vries Penn State Erie, the Behrend College

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Dr. Charlotte de Vries is a Lecturer of Mechanical Engineering at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. She received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts in 2009. She received her M.S. (2013) and Ph.D. (2014) in Mechanical Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University. She teaches Dynamics, System Dynamics, and Instrumentation, Measurement, and Statistics.

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Yi WU Pennsylvania State University, Erie

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Associate Professor

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Melanie R. Ford Pennsylvania State University, Erie

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Melanie Ford is a Lecturer in Computer Science and Software Engineering in the School of Engineering at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. She also holds the positions of Director of both the Engineering K-12 Outreach Center and Youth Education Outreach. She received degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics at the State University of New York at Potsdam. She was awarded the School of Engineering Excellence in Outreach award in 2008-2009, the 2010 Penn State Women in the Sciences and Engineering (WISE) Institute Faculty Recognition Award and the Council of Fellows Excellence in Outreach award in 2010-2011.

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Oladipo Onipede Jr. Pennsylvania State University, Erie

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Using Mindstorms in a Control Systems Lab to impact next generation engineersTeaching students about control systems is challenging, specifically due to the increasedmathematics necessary to fully understand the topic. The LEGO Mindstorms kits, due to theirlow-cost, simplicity, and great flexibility, have been widely used in K-12 and colleges for hands-on teaching of robotics and controls. [University X] is an affiliate partner with [X League] andoffers a variety of resources for those teams. Thanks to the [X grant], we are able to incorporateLEGO Mindstorms NXT to develop control lab activities that can be used for K-12 outreach andundergraduate education to foster an interest in Mechanical Engineering, as well as college levellab activities for the purpose of educating students in controls and systems.The hand-on experience developed includes an outreach workshop for K-12 programs: animmersive 3 hour control systems workshop for use in the Minority College Experience/Womenin Science and Engineering (MCE/WISE) program was conducted in July, 2014 with over 40students. The MCE/WISE programs are free programs, offered by University X, designed forminority or female students from the [local] area in the summer before their senior year in highschool. These programs offer students the opportunity to explore their options in highereducation and examine possible career paths. In this workshop, those high school students notonly have the chance to build an automated wheeled car and a grasping robotic arm, but alsoobserve that changing controller parameters in Matlab/Simulink results in changing performanceof their robots. The outreach activity instruction was developed by two junior ME studentssupported by [University X] Undergraduate research fund, under the supervision of one faculty.This outreach lab can be incorporated into any immersive engineering outreach activity formiddle school or older students.Additionally, three lab activities for junior mechanical engineering students were created. TheDepartment of Mechanical Engineering of [University X] offers a course, System Dynamics,which covers theory of modeling, analysis, and control of dynamic systems. Simulation tools(MATLAB/Simulink) were used extensively throughout the course. An end of semester position-tracking project, using a Quanser DC controller unit, was the only hands-on experience provided.Due to the limited availability of these units, students’ experience was limited to fifteen minutesof experiment verification of their PI controllers. The newly designed Lego labs are offeredstarting from Fall 2014, and are expected to impact more than 100 students annually. The labsinclude a time response of first order system and transfer function identification and verification,a time response of second order system, a PID controller design for a tracking problem, andnonlinearity in system modeling. Those lab activities in System Dynamics course will evolveinto a one-credit lab course, Dynamics and Control, to be incorporated in the curriculum of theMechanical Engineering, in the efforts of creating a specialized dynamics and control track forstudents. This effort is aimed to attract mechanical engineering students to pursue future careersin the field of dynamics and controls. Page  1  of  1    

De Vries, C., & WU, Y., & Ford, M. R., & Onipede, O. (2015, June), Using LEGO MINDSTORMS in a Control Systems Lab to Impact Next-generation Engineers (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25006

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