As the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) conference opened its doors yesterday to educators and students, ST was symbolically graduating to the status of sponsor and virtually giving the commencement address on the new age of embedded system. When we first attended ASEE a few years ago, we had a small stand we were just presenting traditional demos, Last year, we introduced Introduction to Embedded Systems with SensorTile. It took enormous work to make Arm architectures this accessible and painstaking efforts to demonstrate the importance of our hands-on approach. The course shattered records while many schools joined the chorus of voices clamoring for a better way to impart the wisdom of embedded systems to a new generation. Today, we are one of the event’s sponsors, we are demoing some of the most popular textbooks on Arm, and we are launching three curricula to catapult crucial conversations.
Making Engineering More Interdisciplinary
Professor Zhu (University of Maine) and Professor Kaiser (UCLA) were at the ST booth to talk to attendees about their curricula. The former demoed his textbook on embedded system in Assembly and the drone kit at the center of his new course while the latter had two rotary inverted pendulums and a large display showing the impact of different parameters on their performance. There was also a SensorTile module collecting data while Professors Muhammad Ali Mazidi and Shujen Chen were displaying their textbook STM32 Arm Programming for Embedded Systems as well as their EduBase-V2, a hardware platform that serves as a companion. Attendees shared the increasing popularity of traditional microcontrollers in engineering courses instead of systems that may be popular among hobbyists, but are mostly absent from the industrial realm. Indeed, the gap between the university and the industry is narrowing.
Everything and everyone at the ST Booth came together to proclaim a truth that isn’t always self-evident: engineering education must be interdisciplinary, now more than ever. Using the SensorTile curriculum or one of the textbooks on display must contribute to the latest challenges inherent to machine learning, and thus inform other disciplines. An education in control systems must offer substantial hands-on time and lead to a comprehension of modern systems and the rules that govern them. ASEE was thus an excellent opportunity to bring ST and MathWorks together around the Control Systems curriculum, which demonstrates how the industry can rally around educators to make embedded systems more accessible, even to those students who may not get the education in C programming that enables them to approach this subject matter from a traditional angle.
Matrix, or Making Engineering More Visual
ASEE was also an excellent opportunity to see what others are doing with our solutions. Matrix, a British company, was presenting Flowcode 8, an integrated development environment that uses a flowchart to write C programs and that supports STM32F0, STM32F4, and STM32F7 microcontrollers. On one side, students can align the blocks representing certain functions or services. On the other side, a panel shows them how these blocks translate into C code. Matrix also provides worksheet and courses to schools and universities, making this an exciting introduction to programming on embedded systems for secondary schools or even professionals that don’t specialize in these platforms but still wish to create applications quickly. Flowcode brought support for STM32 microcontroller last year, in version 7, to answer popular demand and it is fascinating to see them make embedded systems accessible.
Moreover, the company provides the E-BLOCKS2 ST ARM PROGRAMMER, a development board with an STM32F4 to enable students to start experimenting with their code quickly. Flowcode will work with any PCB that houses a compatible MCU, but offering a hardware platform means Matrix can assist schools better. The board even includes a “Ghost,” a component that monitors the MCU’s pins and works in conjunction with Flowcode to enhance debugging operations by recording data, checking logic, and displaying an oscilloscope. The board also uses analog and digital connectors to allow students to connect additional sensors or RF boards to increase the original feature-set, and Matrix provides courses around these extension boards. Universities in England and the United States adopted the solution to teach first-year students with no programming experience, and there’s a growing interest from high schools as they try to promote science and technologies.
Tetrix, or Making a Beast of Engineering
Another fascinating find at ASEE was Pitsco, an American company making TETRIX, an open robotics platform for students ranging from middle schoolers to undergraduates. They can afford such a wide range of curricula thanks to a very modular approach, which allows them to tailor the concepts teachers tackle. For instance, the “beast” (our nickname) they were presenting included a main Arduino or Arm board, a Bluetooth board to control the robot using a wireless controller, in this instance Sony’s DualShock 4, and its TETRIX PULSE Robotics Controller which uses two ST VNH5019A integrated H-bridge motor drivers. The board also uses a passthrough to allow students to daisy chain multiple PULSE controllers to connect many more motors. The robot on display had a secondary PULSE module for a total of four motors, one for each wheel.
The machine was physically and pedagogically impressive because it showed how scalable the system was. Middle schoolers have access to a graphical wrapper that enables them to use a flowchart to learn the basics of programming and write an application for their robot. On the other hand, university students can get into PCB design thanks to an engineering kit that allows them to access a breadboard and to install their sensors, so they can ultimately build their own. Those who wish to develop their motor control application with our VNH5019A can take advantage of its evaluation board. The STEVAL-VNH5019A provides an STM8 baseboard and a daughterboard with the motor driver. The component is often present in vehicles, and we have a version for the automotive industry, the VNH5019A-E, for window lift, sliding doors, and seat regulation, among other applications.
Today’s (Tuesday) presentations at ASEE:
- Teaching Embedded Systems with Drones (Professor Zhu)
- A Hands-On, Open, Configurable and Low-Cost Platform for Engineering Control Systems Education (Professor Kaiser)