In China, where higher education receives extensive support, Tsinghua University is rated among country’s most elite schools for engineering. Control seems to capture the imagination of the young, especially when students can apply theory to practice. It’s something Quanser has noticed for years: hands-on implementation of theory captivates students and motivates them to learn more. Tsinghua University wanted to encourage and capitalize on all that enthusiasm.
That’s why in the fall of 2009, the University’s Automation Department held an open competition for its undergraduate engineering students. The department also wanted to “enhance undergraduate engineering students’ ability to apply control theory to practice,” said Dr. Kevin Zhang, Field Engineer from Shanghai Baolai Scientific Development Company and Quanser representative in China. “And Quanser’s real-time control software, QUARC, leveled the playing field.” Literally.
Right platform vital for the contest
The first Automatic Control Design Contest was a significant undertaking for undergraduate participants, requiring much preparation and work during 4 months’ period.
The task? A battle of balance. Through a series of one-on-one elimination bouts, opposing teams used their applied control design skills to weigh down or counter-balance a mechanical seesaw. To control the seesaw, teams needed to design their control algorithm and build a PID controller. What fun!
Towards the beginning, the competition was frustratingly slow. The organizers struggled to find the right platform: most of 77 contestants were not familiar enough with LabVIEW, while DSP control required extensive initial testing. Students were mired in the theoretical and ‘busy’ work that control prototyping can demand. The contest needed a tool that would allow students to focus on development of their control strategies, rather than on hardware testing.
QStudioRP, Powered by QUARC
A few weeks into the competition, Dr. Zhang gave a presentation on QStudioRP at the university. This Quanser solution for rapid control prototyping is powered by QUARC, a powerful software seamlessly integrating with MATLAB/Simulink – a simulation environment the students were familiar with. Dr. Zhang noted that “in the preliminary contest rounds, thanks to QUARC’s easiness to learn and use and powerful features, most of the 22 participating teams decided to use QStudioRP as the contest platform.”
Automatic Control Design Contest organization Committee member Xin Rong was also impressed by the software, as was the whole department. Rong believed “the Quanser seminar was the turning point” in the competition. The students were delighted with QUARC because of the time it saved them on tedious prototyping and coding tasks. QUARC not only leveled the playing field – and the seesaws – it sped up the competition and increased the excitement.
With QUARC, students could apply theory in practice
By the end of the competition QStudioRP became the only platform used by the competing teams. Rong remembers how, suddenly, students “could easily connect the seesaw to Quanser data acquisition card and, in a very short time, use QUARC, the MATLAB/Simulink-based real-time control software, to design a PID controller to successfully control the seesaw.”
The fallout? Students had more fun and a rewarding learning experience. They spent more time applying the theory and less time reviewing it. Familiar with the environment QUARC works in, they could now focus on tactical planning and control strategies development for the competition. Being the department’s first competition, a positive outcome was especially important to the committee. Rong reported “the Quanser solution greatly helped and ensured the successful completion of the contest on time.” In fact, Quanser and its distributor, Shanghai Baolai Scientific Development Company received complimentary thanks from the Deputy Director of the Automation Department of Tsinghua University. They look forward to cooperating with Quanser again in the future.
That is, if cooperate is the right word to be used when talking about competitive battles like this one!