Mobile Lab Clients for Testing Application Specific Integrated Circuits in Education

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The evidence that the field of remote engineering has matured are overwhelming, particularly as indicated by the number of remote laboratories in operation today. Furthermore, the range of disciplines being taught continue to grow and collaborations between universities all over the world are becoming increasingly common [9]. Related training courses have also been explored in chemistry, physics, and electrical engineering and other interesting setups include remote experiment and virtual labs for wind tunnels, a virtual laboratory for exploiting DSP algorithms and a learning tool for chip manufacturing [10].

The opportunity to provide students with remote access to experimental hardware and the ability to offer flexibility in time and place in which laboratories are conducted are also becoming powerful motivations for the field [7]. Additionally, the recent advances in mobile technologies have lead to an increase in the number of Internet users accessing information via mobile devices and the number of applications designed for such devices is growing and becoming increasingly popular. With the release of Visual Studio .NET 2003, it was possible to create applications to run on resource-constrained devices, in almost the same way Windows application are created. These applications are built for the .NET Compact Framework that includes a large selection of framework classes and optimized for the small screen resolutions of handheld devices. From the pedagogical viewpoint, students' expectations on how and when they learn are also creating increasingly heavier demands upon all aspects of their learning as young people are making mobile devices an extension of their personal space and fundamental to their daily lives. In response, the world is moving very rapidly to engage with the opportunities and flexibility offered by mobile technologies [8].

Mobile remote solutions may therefore be attractive tools in enhancing access to practical experiments as they offer many different possibilities for applications in industry and education because they are not subjected to limitations of location and time [9-10]. This, in combination with today's easy access to broadband Internet, is transforming the way e-learning is carried out, allowing a higher level of interactivity and providing virtual environments closer to real ones. Hence, mobile remote systems can be very useful when applied to solutions involving high costs of people and equipment transportation. Different universities and institutions could share laboratory resources, expensive equipments and experiments by means of a cooperative network of remote systems.

We have developed a system to design and test Analog ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) remotely over the Internet. The system allows for users to create different circuits with an application software and upload them to a real device. The device under test used is an ispPAC10 from Lattice Semiconductor.

Our approach to implement a client for PDA devices is based on LabVIEW. National Instruments offers a module within its LabVIEW suit to build applications for handheld devices.

2. The Remote Lab Server in LV

Internet Protocol (IP), User Datagram Protocol (UDP), and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) are basic standards for the network communication.

TCP describes the communication between applications. When an application wants to communicate with another application via TCP, it sends a communication request. This request must be sent to an exact address. After a "handshake" between the two applications, TCP will setup a "full-duplex" communication between the two applications [6].

IP is responsible for routing a packet to its destination and it is a "connection-less" communication protocol. LabVIEW offers an API (Application Programming Interface) for developing applications that includes TCP and UDP Vls and functions that can be used to create client or server Vls and it is possible to use TCP/IP protocols with LabVIEW on all platforms. …