Over the last decade, two distinct approaches to mechatronics education have emerged. Specifically, with the advent of high-speed, low-cost PC and DSP-based DAC boards (MultiQ, ServoToGo, dSPACE) for real-time measurement and control, some mechatronics educators have exploited real-time code generation feature of icon-based simulation and programming tools such as Simulink, Simulink Coder, and Simulink Desktop Real-Time.
A similar graphical user interface environment named LabVIEW has revolutionized the measurement industry in the last decade. Alternatively, other mechatronics educators have adopted various microcontroller platforms such as Basic STAMP and JStamp.
Microcontrollers can be easily interfaced with digital sensors and actuators. However, interfacing analog sensors/actuators with microcontrollers necessitates design and implementation of A2D/D2A conversion circuitry. Finally, the microcontroller hardware presents an opportunity to expose students to PBASIC and JAVA programming. In an earlier effort, we followed the code generation path.
Since year 2000, we have also been using microcontrollers for mechatronics education through tutorial and project activities conducted for high school students and ongoing capstone projects. Under our new mechatronics sequence, we are developing courses that include microcontroller-based structured and term project activities.