Development Of A "Smart" Sensor: An Integrated Instrumentation Course Project
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The instrumentation course at Texas A & M University has and will continue to follow a traditional format, teaching the students about sensor technology, signal conditioning, digitization, and finally signal processing techniques. In addition, with the program's new emphasis on distributed process control, information on smart sensors and industry-standard instrumentation buses is included. However, because the Programs are in the process of developing a strong emphasis in the area of product/system development, the instrumentation course has also been identified as an excellent place to have students bring together for the first time, the knowledge they have been developing in analog, digital and software design. In addition, it is also the best place in the curriculum to introduce the students to product design principles for the first time and have them develop a fully-functional prototype of an electronics product. To this end, while the lecture portion of the course still covers traditional instrumentation topics, the faculty has developed a new course project that integrates all of these elements into a comprehensive learning experience where the students design, implement and test a networked "smart" sensor. The project not only requires the students to design and simulate a sensor with signal conditioning, they also have to interface their sensor to a microcontroller, interface the microcontroller to an instrumentation bus, and write the software necessary to process their sensor data and communicate via Modbus protocol to a process control supervisory system. In addition, the students use CAD tools to design a printed circuit board for the working prototype they have to build at the end of the course. This paper will present this new course project in detail including the problem statement, the tools/processes used by the students, and the final deliverable required at the end of the course. In addition, lessons learned, student feedback, and future work will be discussed. American Society for Engineering Education, 2009.