July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Electrical and Computer
1. Clear description of the objectives and motivation for the contribution to ECE education
Antennas are essential components of many vital. In this project, a team of undergraduate engineering students at a research university are operating and enhancing a low-cost, portable, open-source antenna range developed by one of the university’s alumni and his colleagues at another, teaching-focused institution. The enhanced antenna range and the project itself provide opportunities for hands-on learning, remote laboratory exercises, and experiential and / or project-based learning. Further, it has potential to help students, including students who have visual impairments, develop spatial skills that are not only valuable but required in many engineering careers.
2. Relevant background including literature search examples if appropriate
The effectiveness of project-based learning has been studied extensively. We expect that students will gain similar benefits from this team project that integrates tasks and subsystems that involve multiple sub-disciplines within electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science.
The range itself will serve as a resource interactive, remote as well as in-person, hands-on learning. Few systems that serve either role have been developed for electromagnetics education generally or antenna education specifically, and still fewer are publicly available. A literature search identified three alternatives including two commercially produced antenna ranges for use in labs and a remotely accessible, industrial-grade antenna range at another research university. One of the companies appears to have ceased operation. The other company provides well-equipped antenna measurement stations, but at a cost in the low tens of thousands of US dollars per station. The principal investigator whose team built the university-based range indicated that it is currently used as needed for research, and administrative responsibilities had prevented the level of effort necessary to publicize the range. Further, the investigator indicated that engineering educators might prefer to use resources that they develop themselves.
Based on the literature search, the portable range is poised to fill a unique niche in antenna education, as a low-cost, customizable system that can be used locally or remotely as a tool for education and research and also as a subject of research and development projects.
3. Description of any assessment methods used to evaluate the effectiveness of the contribution
We have yet to measure effectiveness or impact of the range or the project itself. However, it is being used in a new course in antennas at the university that developed the range. Additionally, approximately 20 undergraduate students who are working on the range at the research university have used a series of online modules to become more familiar with radio frequency systems and signals and the radio frequency spectrum. Pre- and post-quiz scores of the project participants on these modules have been recorded, together with each student’s decision to opt in or out of related research.
4. Statement of results
The team of undergraduate researchers are developing a proof-of-concept remote access and monitoring capability for the range as a first step towards its use in remote learning and research. Currently the range is accessible using a standard web browser to provide access to a remote Linux desktop. To monitor the range’s operation, the range or a co-located spectrum analyzer can be viewed using a webcam and associated application. The students have increased modularity of the range’s Python-based motor-control software, and have updated the software to work with a more recent version of the language. The students have also developed software to read antenna pattern measurement files and convert them to a format that can be used to render the patterns using three-dimensional graphics or even produce three-dimensional physical antenna pattern models using additive manufacturing.
Preliminary results of the pre- and post-tests for the online modules indicate that participants had substantially increased average scores after each module. The anonymized data will be analyzed for inclusion in a full paper, and results may be compared with those of groups of students who used the modules in other settings.
Future work includes development of a secure web interface that does not require direct access to the operating system on the range computer but does allow remote operation of the range and storage of measurement parameters and results. We also plan to enhance the range’s portability, to increase its utility for use in classroom instruction and in STEM outreach. Additionally, the students are investigating techniques to improve measurements, including investigation of the tradeoff between speed and accuracy for measurements of common types of directional and omnidirectional antennas that can be achieved by varying angular resolution of the measurements and possibly interpolating between measurement points, and mitigation of antenna pattern distortion that is caused by reflected signals.
Dietrich, C. B., & Polys, N. F., & Hearn, C. W., & Reid, K., & García Sheridan, J. A. (2021, July), WIP: Collaborative Undergraduate Research Project to Develop a Remotely-Accessible, Open-Source, Portable, Software-Defined Radio-Based Antenna Range for Research, Education, and Outreach Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/38073
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: © 2021 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