Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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Instrumentation Laboratory


Director: T.W. Shield

Location: 3 Akerman Hall

As part of the conversion of the BAEM program to semesters in 1999, a significant change was made to the laboratory courses. Under quarters there were three laboratory courses, one each with experiments in the areas of Fluids, Solid Mechanics, and Dynamics and Controls. Students were required to take two of these three courses. To solve the problem of how to convert these three quarter courses into two semester courses and to address the need for more instruction on the instrumentation and computers used in the laboratories, it was decided to devote the first laboratory course to instrumentation and computer data acquisition and the second laboratory course to the areas of fluids, solids and dynamics. Advanced control experiments are now part of an elective course.

The goal of the Instrumentation Laboratory Course, as the first required laboratory course for the BAEM degree under semesters is called, is to give the students a fundamental understanding of the measurement of a physical quantity using a sensor, instrumentation amplifier and analog to digital converter and finally a computer to record the measured value. In addition, this course introduces the students to statistical and uncertainty analysis of experimental data. In order to expose the details of the operation of the hardware to the students, a very low level approach was used. The computer the students use for this lab is a single board computer based on an 8-bit microprocessor. Computers of this type, usually called embedded controllers, are very common in industrial applications, for example the Boeing 777 uses over 1200 microprocessors distributed throughout the aircraft and most modern automobiles contain several microprocessors. Thus the instrumentation lab course has the added advantage of introducing the students to embedded controllers, which account for the largest number of microprocessors used in the world.

A new facility was required for the Instrumentation Laboratory Course. This lab is situated in room 3 of Akerman Hall. The College of Science and Engineering provided the funds to equip this room with 6 identical lab stations as well as a TA station with a printer. A typical lab station is shown in the accompanying photograph.

Instruction laboratory station

A lab station consists of an instrument rack which contains a dual trace digital storage oscilloscope, digital voltmeter, function generator, power supply, single board computer and bread board area. The various input and output connections to the single board computer are brought out to solderless connector strips around the edge of the bread board area to allow the students to connect the circuits they construct on their bread boards to the computer. The oscilloscope, meter and function generator allow the students to test and exercise the circuits they construct. These circuits include digital to analog and analog to digital converters and instrumentation amplifiers. By the end of the term, the students have the knowledge to construct a circuit that connects a sensor, such as a strain gage, to a digital input port on the computer. The lab station also includes a Windows NT Workstation. This computer runs the Integrated Development Environment that is used to program the single board computer. So while the students only have to figure out how to access the hardware of the small single board computer from their program, they get to operate in a familiar computing environment.

Rebuild in 2008

In 2008 the lab stations were rebuilt using new computer modules and printed circuit boards. The schematics, printed circuit board layouts and other contruction information is given here. In addition the personal computers were upgraded to Intel Core 2 Duo machines. The fact that the cross complier integrated development environment, Dynamic C, is now free, has signifcantly reduced the cost of this laboratory.


Last Modified: 2012-01-17 at 14:28:10 -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation