Discovery-based laboratory instruction helps teachers bring the theory presented in the classroom lecture to life. This is particularly true in control systems where students sometimes get lost in the labyrinth of mathematical system-theoretic concepts. The education literature provides many examples of high-quality controls laboratory programs and their success in connecting the classroom to the practical “hands-on” world.

Generally speaking, ASE undergraduate students truly enjoy the experience of watching their control system design in operation on a physical system. Under the supervision of Dr. Robert H. Bishop, the UT Control Systems Laboratory is currently undergoing a significant upgrade in capability, usability, and accessibility.

The undergraduate ASE controls class currently has no formal laboratory component. However, for the past two years, the Educational Control Products (ECP) Model 505 Inverted Pendulum was a key element in one of two “take-home” design projects. For this project, students design their control system using analytical and computer-aided design techniques, and then each student controller design is implemented in the laboratory for testing. In one fun-filled session, all the controllers are tested with every student in attendance. Central to the laboratory capability upgrade is a new Dell Dimension PC, a new high-performance National Instruments PCI-6703 data acquisition (DAQ) analog output board, and a new National Instruments PCI-6602 digital signal processing (DSP) board.

A Controls Laboratory Manual was developed as a guide for students, and a two-hour lecture with twenty pages of notes is now ready. Accessibility of the experiments will be improved first by moving the facility into a better location, and second, through an on-going effort to make the laboratory remotely accessible via internet. The laboratory needs more experimental hardware before considering the course as a formal offering. Our goal is to find resources for a classic mass-spring-damper experiment and a control moment gyroscope apparatus.

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