Using the AELabs in the course for two semesters did not allow Dr. Trescases to quantify their impact on the learning outcomes, but he considers the students’ experience in the lab as truly transformative. The change of attitude was almost immediate, with student engagement positively influenced by hands-on interactions with real-world circuit applications. For example, students were encouraged to bring their smartphones to the lab and play their favorite music through the amplifier circuit on the BJT experiment board. By modifying the configuration of the amplifier and they could hear the resulting changes in the audio output through their headphones.
Without AELabs, the chance students would graduate from the Electrical Engineering program without ever having seen or interacted with a surface-mount component was real. For Dr. Trescases that would mean he failed the students as an instructor. AElabs taught students how PCBs work, how devices are connected, and how the components are mounted, all of which is extremely useful.
The AELabs design earned the student team the University of Toronto’s 2013 Gordon R. Slemon Design Award, honoring the most imaginative design project, product design, and execution. After graduating from the Electrical Engineering program, the students from the AELabs design team founded the startup Illuster Technologies, with the aim to commercialize the product. The feature article on the AELabs, published in the ECE’s magazine Annum 2014, caught an eye of Dr. Jacob Apkarian, renowned modern control, and mechatronics pioneer, Quanser’s founder and one of Dr. Sedra’s students in 1970s. Dr. Apkarian recognized that AELabs was consistent with the core philosophy of all Quanser educational platforms, and the two companies started the collaboration to fully commercialize and launch the AELabs.
Quanser, with over 25 years of experience in design and development of teaching solutions for engineering labs, immediately noticed the strong potential synergy of the AELabs solution and the National Instruments ELVIS platform. Under the guidance of Quanser engineers, the Illuster team redesigned the AELabs control board to take full advantage of the NI ELVIS. NI ELVIS platform allowed for the integration of instrumentation, function generation, data acquisition and other core tools. The resulting AELabs for NI ELVIS offers a simpler, more compact, and portable solution for any engineering lab. Quanser helped to refine the industrial design of the boards to ensure resilience capable of withstanding even the most enthusiastic users. Keeping the original course materials closely tied to the Sedra and Smith’s Microelectronic Circuits textbook, the Quanser team also helped to align them with modern approaches to courseware design. With these enhancements, the lab experience can be now better integrated into the course, tying the theoretical knowledge to the hands-on practical learning through a set of motivating experiments.