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4th Global Congress on Engineering Education Bangkok, Thailand, 5 - 9 July, 2004

2004 UICEE

Real life measurements in a circuit design laboratory via the internet


Udo Strasilla
Department of Electrical Engineering San Jose State University San Jose, California, USA

ABSTRACT: A pilot program has been set up in our Analog Circuit Design Lab where remote measurements may be performed via the internet. Our initial stimulus to go this route is the fact that students often cannot finish their lab experiments within the allotted time when an instructor is present. For reasons of security and shortage of funds to keep a supervised lab open longer, students are not allowed in the lab at non-class times. The success in enabling students to perform experiments at home over the web demonstrates that less endowed universities could also invest in a measurement lab accessible on the web. Their cost in establishing such lab would be 10% of the cost of equipping a traditional circuit measurement lab. Both, an Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrument from National Instruments and customized LabView programs linked with data acquisition hardware, are used not only for in-lab demonstrations but also for remote measurements. Examples for some of the remote controlled experiments are: the measurement of a diode characteristic, characterization of a transistor similar as done by a curve tracer, and the measurement of the frequency response and linearity of amplifiers and filters.

INTRODUCTION On March 17, 2004 a panel of San Jose State University instructors spoke to faculty members about the use of online teaching tools. According to the panel discussions great strides have been made in the direction of using the internet for education, either in full on-line courses or in using the internet in web-assisted courses. Corey Gin, academic coordinator at the SJSU Center for Distributed Education, which hosted the event, said there are about 41 totally online courses being taught on campus this semester, with about 150 blended courses, which use online resources to supplement what is taught in the classrooms.[1] The web-courses take advantage of all kinds of tools in addition to lecture presentations. In this paper the author describes other novel tools aiding us in the effort of instruction, in particular, the instructions in a circuit and experimentation lab. A virtual instrument from National Instruments is used for demonstrating the control and measurement of experiments. The fact that this instrument is controlled by a personal computer makes it possible to also control it via the internet. In addition, customized programs were developed using LabView, a graphical programming language, which let the user at a remote location apply specified dc-voltages and ac-signals to circuits in our lab and which allows him/her to make circuit measurements. THE PRESENT INTEGRATED CIRCUIT DESIGN LAB The Integrated Circuit Design Lab in the Electrical Engineering department at San Jose State University (SJSU) covers the lab portion of EE124 Electronic Design II. EE124 has 4 credit units, including the lab portion which has a one credit unit weight. Each semester we have 6 lab sections, whereby there is a 16 student per section limit. The lab has 10 lab stations. 8 lab stations are used by the students who double up in groups of two. One lab station is for the instructor used

for experimentation and demonstration. The 10th lab station is considered to be a spare station. If any equipment breaks down, then the instruments from the spare station may be used. The EE124 lab complements the lecture, where students learn design techniques for integrated circuit design. In the lab students hone their skills in circuit design, simulation, building and troubleshooting, measurement techniques, circuit characterization and evaluation. They are responsible for recording their data in lab notebooks, and for reporting their results in reports and by presentations. The experiments covered are listed in Table 1. Table 1: Circuit and Instrument Experiments in EE124 Lab Expt. # 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Experiment Diode Characteristic Transistor Curve Tracer Current Mirror Differential Amplifier Transconductance Amplifier Feedback Amplifier Op Amp Frequency Limitation Oscillator Filters Spectrum Analyzer

There is a considerable equipment investment in the EE124 Lab. Each lab station has an oscilloscope, function generator/arbitrary waveform generator, digital multimeter and a triple output power supply. Also each lab station has a PC (with monitor, keyboard and mouse) connected to the instruments by a GPIB interface bus. In addition the laboratory

has capacitance meters, a transistor curve tracer and a spectrum analyzer. Acquisition records show that the cost of the lab equipment is at least US$70000. If it were not for contributions from industry, in particular from Hewlett Packard, this lab would be in poor shape. Our chairman, Prof. Freeman, calculated that if our labs would only rely on state funds, they could be upgraded only every 80 years. THE TRADITIONAL WAY TO USE THE CIRCUIT DESIGN LAB The lab experiments are described in our EE124 Lab Manual [2] which is updated every semester, whereby circuit specifications are changed in order to avoid recycling of old lab reports. According to the lab manual instructions the student should prepare for each experiment at home by familiarizing him/herself with the theory, by performing the paper/pencil design and by performing circuit simulations to verify the design. Also students should breadboard their circuit at home, so they may use lab-time more efficiently for measurement and evaluation. In the beginning of the lab they are given a quiz to test their understanding of the previous experiment(s) and their preliminary preparation. The lab instructor gives a short lecture reviewing subtleties of the previous experiment and giving pointers on the new experiment with emphasis on areas where difficulties are anticipated. The instructor often attempts to demonstrate measurements on a demo circuit, showing measurement techniques, expected waveforms and troubleshooting techniques. There are a couple of shortcomings using above approach. First, valuable lab-time is lost by the in-lab tutorial and by the demo. This portion could be addressed as effectively by having tutorials on the web. Secondly, the demo - as well intended as it is - is problematic when 16 students crowd around the instructor and stretch their neck trying to get a glimpse of the oscilloscope. Sometimes a student might accidentally bump into the arm of the instructor handling probes, thus causing open or short circuits or components to pull out. The solution for this demo-problem will be described in the next chapter, where ELVIS comes to the rescue. The largest shortcoming in the lab is the fact that students can rarely finish the lab experiment in their allotted time of 3 hours. If one hour is lost due to the introductory tutorial, demo and quiz, then the students have only 2 hours to finish the experiment. Though the experiment is designed such that they should be able to finish the experiment in that time, this does not allow for Murphys law, which states that if anything can go wrong, it will! Instructors often are generous in staying longer in the lab. But many students cannot take advantage of this due to conflicts with other classes. Understandably, due to the huge department investment in this lab, and due to safety issues, access codes cannot be given to the students. Also, due to the budgetary crunch, our department cannot afford the hiring of student assistants who could supervise the lab at other times than the official lab times. It is encouraging that the internet allows a solution to this dilemma by making remotecontrolled experiments possible over the web. Efforts done on this front will be discussed in the second next chapter of this paper.

CIRCUIT MEASUREMENT DEMONSTRATION USING ELVIS The Fall 2002 Professional Development Grant of $2500 allowed the author, who also is lab coordinator for the EE124 Integrated Circuit Design Lab, to purchase the ELVIS instrument from National Instruments. ELVIS is the acronym for Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite. It is a LabView-based design and prototyping environment for university science and engineering laboratories. ELVIS is a powerful measurement instrument which practically contains 12 instruments in one package. [3] As shown in Fig. 1 it consists of a box containing hardware function generators, power supplies, connectors and a protoboard on the top. A circuit built on the protoboard may be powered and excited by a signal generated from within the ELVIS box or generated by software within the computer. ELVIS connects via a cable to the digital/analog data acquisition (DAQ) card mounted within the computer. Software invoked ac-signals and dc-voltages are sent from the PC DAQ-card to the circuit. The resulting signals are measured on the PC.

Fig. 1

ELVIS, the Laboratory Virtual Instrument

The heart of the instrument is the LabView software resident in the PC. In 1986 National Instruments introduced Lab View, a graphical test development environment that pioneered the concept of virtual instrumentation. Table 2 shows the various instruments into which ELVIS could morph to. Some of these instruments, for example power supplies, function generator and oscilloscope may be run simultaneously, thus duplicating the basic instruments of our lab-bench. Table 2: Various Instruments Built into ELVIS Inst # 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Instrument Type Digital Multimeter Oscilloscope Function Generator Variable Power Supplies Bode Analyzer (Frequency & Phase) Dynamic Signal Analyzer (Spectrum) Arbitrary Waveform Generator Digital Reader Digital Writer Impedance Analyzer Two-Wire Current-Voltage Analyzer Three-Wire Current-Voltage Analyzer

ELVIS is ideal for demonstrations in our EE124 Lab. It has been used in the authors lab section starting this spring semester 2004. The demo circuits are built on the pressboard on top of the ELVIS box. The various power supplies and signals are hooked up to the appropriate points and the desired signals are monitored using the meter or scope feature of ELVIS. When the instructor demonstrates the behavior of the circuit he/she may manipulate the voltages, signals and scope settings from the PC. Due to the fact that the circuit is never touched during the demo, the setup is quite robust. An LCD projector connected to the PC allows projection of the instrument panels to the classroom screen. Some of the demos performed in the EE124 lab are illustrated in Figures 2 and 3. Fig. 2 shows an oscilloscope display of the input and output voltages of a differential amplifier to be designed by students. It well demonstrates the performance of a differential amplifier where a useful triangular differential signal corrupted by a square-wave common-mode signal amplifies only the triangle signal while discarding the common-mode portion. This is a useful feature of amplifiers in applications like medical instrumentation, where small brain waves buried within common-mode ac-signals need to be amplified first before they can be recorded by an EEG or Electro-Encephalo-Graph.

then the fundamental frequency is unchanged while the higher harmonics are attenuated, progressively more at higher frequencies.

Fig. 3: ELVIS used as Bode plot Analyzer Measuring the Frequency Response of a Band-Pass Filter REMOTE EXPERIMENT CONTROL AND MEASUREMENT VIA THE INTERNET The most exciting application for using Lab View and associated instruments is their capability to control experiments and to make measurements via the internet. This way, students who are not able to finish their experiment within the allotted lab time may finish the experiment at home. It is understood that they most likely will not have a chance to connect their own circuit to the lab instrumentation setup. Most likely the instructor will hook up his/her well-tested demo circuit. However, they still will get the measurement experience and will have the chance to gain a deeper understanding of the circuit operation. LabView is such a powerful high level programming language, that independent of ELVIS it is not too difficult to develop your own programs for simulation and data acquisition. The author acquired data acquisition cards at the tune of about $800/card using the Fall 2003 Professional Development Grant. The graphical programming language and the powerful virtual sub-instruments (vis) made available by National Instruments facilitate the programming part considerably as opposed to programming by C or C++. So far three of the experiments listed in Table 1 were programmed such that they can be used remotely: the Diode Characteristic, the Transistor Curve Tracer and the Differential Amplifier. These act as showcase to demonstrate the capability of remote controlled experimentation. Fig. 4 shows the front panel of the diode experiment. In general the web-experiments have three modes which may be accessed by virtual switches or by pull-down menus: a) the tutorial mode, where theoretical concepts may be explored by using simulations; b) the manual measurement mode, where the students measurements on a lab-bench may be re-enacted; c) the automatic mode, where a voltage sweep or signalfrequency sweep is performed within certain limits,

Fig. 2: ELVIS (Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite) Oscilloscope Display of a Differential Amplifier Circuit Input and Output Voltage Fig. 3 demonstrates the characterization of a band-pass filter by means of a Bode plot analyzer. It shows the gain and phase of the filter in decibels and degrees, respectively, as the sine-wave input frequency is varied between 10Hz and 35 kHz. Our lab does not have a conventional Bode plot analyzer due to its expense. Students wishing to analyze filters or amplifiers have to go through the painstaking process of measuring input voltage, output voltage and phase at one frequency, and then repeating the measurements for successive frequencies. Also ELVIS may be used as a spectrum analyzer. A spectrum analyzer works on the principle that it can dissect any signal into its frequency components, similar as a prism separates a light-beam into its various rainbow colors. If a pure sine-wave is analyzed, only one frequency spike should result at the frequency of the sine-wave. A square-wave contains the fundamental frequency of the square-wave plus the odd harmonics. If the square-wave is filtered by a band-pass filter,

and where the resulting data are automatically displayed in a graph. On a lab-bench in our lab the student normally does not have this feature. This mode shows him/her the methods used in industry for automatic characterization and screening of chips.

Fig. 5: Demonstration of the LabView Program for the Diode Experiment Fig. 6 shows a remote controlled transistor beta tester. A snapshot of the automatic mode is taken, where the collector current family of a bipolar NPN transistor is displayed as function of base current steps. From this the student should be able to determine the transistor current gain = I C / I B and the Early resistance ro . In addition to the tutorial mode (accessible by a push button) and the switch-controlled manual/automatic mode, this experiment also has a quiz feature, accessible by a push button.

Fig. 4: Remote-Controlled Diode Measurement Experiment The tutorial mode of the diode experiment (not shown in Fig. 4) gives the student the chance to play around with various scenarios. For example, the student knows that the diode equation is: I d = I S exp
Vd / nVt

where I d and

Vd are the diode current and voltage, respectively, as shown in the circuit of Fig. 4. Vt depends on physical parameters and temperature, I S depends mostly on the
cross-sectional area of the diode, whereby n is a fudge factor depending on the vagaries of the silicon-process during manufacture. By being able to vary these parameters and studying the resulting diode-current versus voltage plot, the student can imitate the effort of manufacturers, who try to pin down the I S and n-values, so they may enter these in their device models, allowing them to achieve better circuit simulation results. In fact, the student may experimentally match the theoretical curve against the measured curve, in order to determine the I S and n-values of the diode under test. Fig. 4 shows the end-result of a diode voltage sweep in the automatic mode. The meters shown follow the sweep slowed down on purpose by the program. Of course in the manual mode they are necessary for data recording. In the automatic mode the virtual voltage control knob is covered by the graph, so that only relevant information is presented. To demonstrate what the graphical program looks like, the LabView program of the diode tester is shown in Fig. 5. This program contains two so-called sub-vis, similar to subroutines in a C-program, which are supplied by National Instrument as part of their software package and which deal with the communication to the DAQ-card.

Fig. 6: Remote-Controlled Transistor Measurement Experiment Fig. 7 demonstrates the manual control feature of the differential amplifier experiment. In this case a differential dc-input voltage may be varied between -10 Volt and +10 Volt. The resulting dc-voltages and dccurrents for various Vid voltage settings are then displayed in the small boxes next to the points of interest. This test is important prior to ac-signal measurements in order to determine the linear operating region of the circuit. This type of measurement is more powerful than the traditional measurement on the lab-bench because no measurement leads need to be traced and correlated to the actual circuit. With one glance the student gets a feel for the behavior of the circuit at a particular Vid -voltage.

It appears that the establishment of a remote control/measurement capability should open up opportunities for faculty for obtaining grants or sabbaticals. Even an economical remote lab may be established for extension courses. If a school, particularly in an underdeveloped country, cannot afford a hardware lab, then a remote lab will still give that school a chance to allow its students valuable measurement experience. The applications of the real life internet features of LabView are limitless. Proof of this is a senior project finished in May 2003, where students demonstrated successfully that a robot in our lab may be remotely steered from any part of the world via internet. [4] The remote user sees on the computer screen what the video camera mounted on the robot sees. The robot may be maneuvered around our lab and hallways, it may pick up objects at will under the guidance of a remote user anywhere in the world - who manipulates the virtual controls on the computer screen by moving/clicking a mouse. CONCLUSION A powerful tool is demonstrated which enhances circuit lab instructions in several ways. Using an Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrument demonstrations may be done easily whereby the measurement techniques may be projected on the screen. The same experiment may then be remote controlled via the web. Using LabView in conjunction with data acquisition cards additional customized lab experiments may be set up which may be controlled remotely via internet. Features may be added to allow internet tutorials, measurement evaluations and quizzes. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT The initial LabView work was supported by a Lockheed grant. The use of the LabView software is made possible due to a site license at the College of Engineering of San Jose State University. The purchase of ELVIS, the Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite, data acquisition cards, peripheral equipment and educational material were supported by professional development grants. Thanks are due to student assistant Cuong Nguyen for the artwork in designing the instrument front panels. REFERENCES [1] Jakk Jones; Faculty members hear online teaching advice; Spartan Daily; San Jose; 3/18/2004 [2] Tom Matthews; EE124 Lab Manual, Integrated Circuit Experiments; Maple Press; San Jose; Spring 2004 [3] Barry Paton; Introduction to ELVIS; Dalhouse University; National Instruments Corporation; January 2004 [4] Cameron Vandersteen, Justin Rodriguez, Thuc Nguyen; Control Over-the-Internet of a Radio Controlled Robot; Senior Project; El. Eng. Dept.; San Jose State University; May 2003 [5] National Instruments; Datasheets and Literature; http://www.ni.com

Fig. 7: Remote-Controlled Differential Amplifier Experiment ASSESSMENT OF THE VALUE OF THIS INNOVATION FOR TEACHING IN A LABORATORY ENVIRONMENT The method described above is a powerful teaching tool for lab-courses. It promises to make existing labs more efficient by giving students the chance to work through tutorials on the internet, to perform remote measurements on real circuits and to analyze the data in preparation for on-line quizzes. It appears that other departments at San Jose State University or at other universities may be interested in this approach. Any department involving measurements and control could apply these LabView features, for example the Physics Department, Meteorology Department and even the School of Medicine. Within the School of Medicine out-patient monitoring via the internet may be achieved. The cost of a remote measurement station including ELVIS is not prohibitive. For US$7000, ELVIS, DAQ cards and the PC may be purchased. In addition the purchase of the LabView software or obtaining a site license needs to be entered into the equation. In this regard the Electrical Engineering Department is fortunate since the College of Engineering has a site license for LabView. To be fair, one should be aware that the possible price reduction from US$70000 to a US$7000 when switching from a hardware lab to a remote controlled internet lab, involves compromises. A real hardware lab supported by ELVIS and an internet lab module is still the optimum solution. This way the student gets the best of both features. He/she still will have to interact with other students as team member and with the instructor. He/she will still have to build a circuit and experience the real-life frustration if the circuit doesnt work the first time. Then he/she will have to apply trouble-shooting techniques. But in addition, the student would get the benefit of an excellent measurement demo by the instructor using ELVIS, of tutorials on the web, as well as the chance to continue measurements at home.