NI for ABET Accreditation: Top Five Reasons

Publish Date: Sep 15, 2011 | 6 Ratings | 4.17 out of 5 |  PDF

Overview

National Instruments technologies offer several advantages that help towards ABET accreditation. This document describes the top five reasons for using National Instruments technology in your University.

1. ABET (a)-(k) Program Outcomes

The Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the recognized accreditation agency for colleges and university programs in the field of applied sciences, computing, engineering and technology to ensure the quality of postsecondary education that students receive. It consists of 30 professional and technical societies from these areas and is recognized by the Council of Higher Education Accreditation.

With respect to ensuring the quality of engineering education, ABET stresses program outcomes (Criterion 6 2005-06 EAC, ABET) and specifies that engineering programs must demonstrate that their students attain 11 objectives as listed in Table 1. 

Table 1. ABET (a)-(k) Program Outcomes (www.abet.org)

(a)

An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering

(b)

An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data

(c)

An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability and sustainability

(d)

An ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams

(e)

An ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems

(f)

An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility

(g)

An ability to communicate effectively

(h)

The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental and societal context

(i)

A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning

(j)

A knowledge of contemporary issues

(k)

An ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice

 

It is worth noting that while objectives (f), (g), (h), (i) and (j) focus on overall development of the student through the engineering program, objectives (a), (b), (c), (d), (e)and (k) focus specifically on experiential, hands-on learning and use of tools that are industry standard. The motivation behind this is to create an environment where students learn to apply the theory they learn to real-world problems and work with real-world tools that are industry-standard so that when they enter the industry, they are prepared to contribute to the success of the company.

One of the ways that we can satisfy the objectives (a), (b), (c), (d), (e) and (k) is to find a platform that

  • Can span across multiple disciples and classes
  • Is simple, intuitive and easy-to-learn and teach
  • Is an industry-standard
  • Can connect to real-world signals using state-of-the-art and industry-standard hardware
  • Can enable students to design, prototype and deploy systems to solve real-world problems

2. #1: LabVIEW is a versatile Simulation Environment

NI LabVIEW, the industry-standard software for measurements and instrument control is a completely graphical programming platform. Figure 1 shows a typical LabVIEW program. We have results from research that the graphical nature of LabVIEW enables engineering students to learn programming faster than with traditional text-based programming languages[Research by Dr. Mark Yoder, Rose Hulman Institute of Technology].  The block diagram in LabVIEW looks similar to flow diagrams that are used to teach engineering concepts to the students, which leads to a more intuitive transition from these concepts to programming.

 

Figure 1. A Typical LabVIEW Program

LabVIEW includes thousands of pre-built function blocks including functions for measurements and instrument control  control & simulation, signal and image processing, communication system design and embedded programming(figure 2). With the combination of these function blocks, students can now:

  • design and simulate test and measurement systems,
  • construct and validate circuits with tight integration with NI Multisim,
  • create sophisticated control systems and perform system identification
  • perform extensive signal processing
  • implement complex image processing algorithms
  • build and test custom modulation/communication schemes

Figure 2. LabVIEW - A Multidisciplinary Graphical Programming Language

The power of LabVIEW’s user interface allows you to create in-class demos of the concepts you teach.  These in-class demos allow the students to change parameters dynamically and see what happens to the system as a result of their changes at run-time.  This gives the students an intuitive understanding of the math that they are learning in class. Let us take a look at a couple of examples.

Figure 3. Teaching the Mass-Spring-Damper System with Simulation using LabVIEW
 

Figure 3 shows a classic example from a typical controls class – the mass-spring-damper system to teach 2nd order systems in undergraduate engineering. With new tools like LabVIEW, you can take advantage of concepts such as the 3D Picture Toolkit which enables creation of three dimensional models that have inputs that dictate their run-time behavior, providing a visual representation to the mathematical equations.

In addition to the 3D model of the mass-spring-damper, LabVIEW enables you to use graphs, charts and other interactive UI elements to drive home the math behind the concepts and help students visualize theory. LabVIEW also handles multiple solvers thus enabling you to show the effect of different solvers. We used the Runge-Kutte 1 solver for this simulation.

Video 1 illustrates another example where the LabVIEW Graphical Programming Environment is used very effectively to teach concepts. In this case, we design an FM Radio using LabVIEW and the Modulation toolkit. This will be replaced by the Youtube version of FM Radio

Video 1. Designing and Implementing an FM Radio with LabVIEW
 
We could have also used LabVIEW to implement any custom modulation/demodulation scheme. An example of such an application would be to test and drive remote-controlled (RC) cars. The key point is that LabVIEW can be used to simulate and teach engineering concepts very effectively.

3. #2: Seamless integration with hardware to design experiments

As shown in the previous example, simulation is only part of the equation. To completely understand the concepts, students need to build systems that interact with real-world signals. While other solutions require that the student to rewrite their simulation example to run with different hardware, LabVIEW provides a seamless transition from simulation to real-world hardware with minimal changes to the simulation program.

NI provides flexible and robust hardware that can be used in conjunction with LabVIEW to design and test simple experiments with a multi-instrument suite like the NI Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite (ELVIS) [Resources for NI ELVIS] or conduct research with the industry-standard PXI modular instrumentation[Resources for PXI] and FPGA-based deployment targets such as the NI CompactRIO[Resources for CompactRIO ].

Figure 4 shows a multi-disciplinary teaching platform that is increasingly being used in classroom settings – NI ELVIS. Available with USB plug-and-play connectivity NI ELVIS consists of the 12 most commonly used laboratory instruments such as an oscilloscope, DMM, arbitrary waveform generator, 2-wire and 3-wire current analyzers, bode analyzer etc.

Figure 4. The NI ELVIS Educational Platform

Several other industry-standard companies make boards that plug into the NI ELVIS making it a versatile platform that can be used in several different classes. Figure 5 shows all the different companion boards available for the NI ELVIS today.

Figure 5. Companion Boards for the NI ELVIS/NI LabVIEW platform
 
NI ELVIS is used in more than 1200 universities worldwide to teach engineering concepts. Universities using NI ELVIS include Georgia Tech, MIT, Virginia Tech, DeVry University, Rochester Institute of Technology, RPI and more.
 
PXI (PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation) provides an ideal platform for research. PXI takes advantage of the commercially available PCI technology and adds timing and synchronization to provide a robust design and instrumentation platform. A typical PXI system, shown in figure 6, can consist anywhere from 4 to 18 slots. The figure shows an 8-slot PXI system. PXI provides flexibility to address the continuing instrumentation needs. The slots are capable of handling any PXI instrumentation modules and all the laboratory instrumentation such as oscilloscopes, DMMs, ARBs and even communication systems are available in PXI form factor.

Figure 6. PXI Platform for Research Applications
 
PXI systems provide the following advantages over traditional instrumentation for labs and research:
  • Quiet, compact, modular 4/8/18-slot chassis for flexible lab instrumentation
  • An Embedded Controller (up to Intel Dual Core Processors) capable of running windows or real-time for PXI
  • PXI and CompactPCI specifications compliance
  • Integrated timing and synchronization in the backplane
  • Rugged, laboratory-friendly construction
  • A complete set of modular instruments (Oscilloscopes, DMMs, ARBs etc) [Learn more]

Research also involves embedded prototyping and deployment. Figure 7 shows an FPGA-based platform, NI CompactRIO that is ideal for senior design projects and research. CompactRIO consists of a backplane with an FPGA and a real-time controller and includes signal conditioning such as sensors can directly be connected. CompactRIO is an embedded platform, which means that it can be deployed safely to create free-standing design examples.

Figure 7. NI CompactRIO FPGA-based Prototyping and Deployment Platform
 
CompactRIO has already been used in several innovative design projects. For example, Video 2 shows how some students from Carinthia University used the NI CompactRIO to create an autonomous RUBIK’s Cube Solver (RuCuS). In this project, CompactRIO is used to manipulate the mechanical arms that actually solve the RUBIK’s cube. CompactRIO has also been used to solve other real-world problems by students - these examples are highlighted in a later section.
 
Video 2. RuCuS: An Autonomous RUBIK's Cube Solver using NI CompactRIO
 
4. #3: Open Platform to Interface with Other Engineering Tools
LabVIEW is an open platform designed to let you take advantage of other engineering tools to build the best system possible for your application. In academia, LabVIEW has capabilities to interface seamlessly with the leading tools used both in classroom and research. Figure 8 shows some of the tools in the different areas that LabVIEW can interface to.
 
 
 
 
Figure 8. LabVIEW Interfaces with Other Leading Engineering Education Tools
 

5. #4: Capability to solve real-world engineering problems

A key requirement for ABET accreditation is the ability to solve real-world engineering problems. Due to the limitation of traditional tools, it was difficult to go from theory to deployment in a semester. With new tools like LabVIEW and CompactRIO, we can now teach student to learn the theory, simulate, design, prototype and deploy systems.

A very good example of this is a control design project done by the students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where the objective for the students was to build a human object transport vehicle(HOT-V). Video 3 shows a demonstration of this project.

Video 3. HOT-V: Human Object Transport Vehicle Project using NI CompactRIO at RPI

The students went through the entire design process - theory, simulation, design, prototyping and deployment in a semester from start to finish. This was possible because the students did not have to rewrite their entire application after simulation. Also because they used LabVIEW, they did not have to rewrite their application to scale the system from the light object transport vehicle to the human object transport vehicle. This saved them enormous amount of time and led to a successful project.

6. #5: LabVIEW is an Industry-standard platform

Since its introduction in 1986, LabVIEW has become the industry standard tool for measurement and control applications. With over 25000 industrial users, LabVIEW has been used in different kinds of applications from industrial automation to teaching concepts in schools.

LabVIEW is also being used in different avenues in high-school classrooms. LabVIEW is the software that powers LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT kit. It is also used as the software of choice with the Infinity Project, a high school technology program from Southern Methodist University.

With its roots in test and measurement, LabVIEW is used to design, control and test consumer products and systems such as MP3 and DVD players, cell phones and vehicle air bag safety systems. Applications include helping to control the NASA Mars Pathfinder exploration to testing the Microsoft Xbox gaming consoles. LabVIEW is an open platform that has enabled an ecosystem to be developed including

Conclusion

NI LabVIEW is a platform that can be used to teach engineering concepts in a hands-on, experiential manner using industry-standard hardware to bring in real-world signals. In addition, LabVIEW is an open platform that enables us to interface with other tools used in academia. Because LabVIEW is scalable from simulation to running on hardware with minimal changes, we can now help students solve real-world problems.  These are some of the benefits that LabVIEW provides to help with ABET accreditation.

 

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