OpenLabs Electronics Laboratory
Open your electronics laboratories for remote experimentation
The Internet provides new possibilities for universities and other teaching organizations to share laboratories equipped with expensive instruments. Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH) in Sweden has created a lab workbench equipped with a unique remote control interface, enabling students to perform physical experiments at home or elsewhere. For example, they can practise before regular lab sessions. Remote experimentation supplements face-to-face sessions. Off campus students can participate in supervised sessions using teleconferencing tools.
A project, VISIR (Virtual Instrument Systems In Reality), has been started to disseminate methods to open laboratories for remote experimentation. This is an invitation to
- join the VISIR Community
- set up a VISIR workbench for electrical experiments
- participate in the further development of this VISIR Lab Platform
It is an opportunity of providing students with free experimentation resources 24/7 without substantial increase in cost per student. Spending more time on experiments your students will become true experimenters being able to design goods and services complying with the requirements of a sustainable society. FH Campus Vienna in Austria and University of Deusto in Spain have set up VISIR workbenches and use them in their own lab courses. The VISIR software is released under a GNU GPL license. The instruments and LabVIEW, which is also required, can be bought from National Instruments. The telemanipulator needed for circuit wiring is commercially available as well. Please contact Ingvar Gustavsson for more information.
Many students can perform physical experiments simultaneously
The workbench is equipped with a unique virtual interface enabling students to recognize the desktop instruments and the breadboard they have already used in the local laboratory on their own computer screen. The physical breadboard, widely used in electronics laboratories, cannot be controlled remotely. It has been replaced by a telemanipulator, i.e. a switching relay matrix, which the student can control by wiring on a virtual breadboard. This breadboard and an example of a virtual instrument front panel displayed on a student's computer screen are shown in the figures below. When the user has made all wiring and setting of the instruments she presses the Perform Experiment button to send them to the workbench, which creates the desired circuit and performs the experiment in fractions of a second. The result is returned to the user. A timesharing scheme allows many users to experiment simultaneously i.e. the workbench is equivalent of a laboratory equipped with many traditional workbenches. The VISIR Lab Platform is presented in many scientific papers. (One example)
Only a web browser is required
Only Internet access and a web browser with a Flash player are required to access the experimental resources. The client software is automatically downloaded from a web server. The equipment provided comprises a dual channel oscilloscope, a function generator, a DMM, a triple DC power supply, the switching relay matrix, and a number of components such as resistors, IC circuits etc. installed in the matrix. As in a local laboratory session, every student is provided with a set of components in each lab session. The set is displayed in a component box on the top of the virtual breadboard. The BTH electronics workbench can be found at http://openlabs.bth.se/electronics and is open for guest users to try out.