The Microcontroller: A Paradigm for a Robot Building Block

By Hammons, John; Deal, Walter F.,, III | Technology and Engineering Teacher, May-June 2013 | Go to article overview

The Microcontroller: A Paradigm for a Robot Building Block


Hammons, John, Deal, Walter F.,, III, Technology and Engineering Teacher


THE DIGITAL WORLD AROUND US

As technology and engineering teachers, we are always looking for new lab activities that are exciting, challenging, and make appropriate STEM connections. In addition, there are several other important activity dimensions that should be considered. The activities should meet course goals, appeal to a broad range of students, meet their interests and learning needs, and provide a measure of success. Additionally, learning activities that are fun and challenging captivate student interest and motivate their imagination and creative talents. They also can help build enrollment in your instructional program. It may be easy to find or create activities that satisfy several of these aspects of learning activities; however, it is a bit more difficult to integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into a single activity.

As we consider the world around us today, we see that in reality we live in a digital world where a vast array of digital technologies accommodates many human needs and desires. Digital technologies are pervasive in that we find them used in traditional areas of manufacturing, construction, transportation, and communication. Additionally, we see many new commercial and consumer products and leading-edge medical discoveries that involve digital technologies in a variety of ways.

There are many new developments in the area of construction that involve digital technologies. The testing and measurement of material properties make extensive use of digital technologies. Smart buildings use digital technologies to monitor and control heating and air conditioning parameters, but go even further in providing the capability to monitor and control building "health." As we look at buildings, we see they are complex structures, made up of many different systems such as those found in high-rise buildings, stadiums, monuments, and other kinds of structures. Many of these buildings were constructed years ago, and time takes its toll on materials and structural integrity. Digital and analog technologies may be used to monitor movement, settlement, stress and loads, as well as chemical-physical actions on materials. Structural Health Monitoring allows the rapid assessment of a building's health, and such an approach is recognized as one of the best means available to increase the safety and to optimize the operational and maintenance activities of complex buildings (Roctest, 2013).

Transportation and communication technologies make extensive use of digital and microcontroller technologies. The typical automobile today may incorporate dozens of microcontrollers and sensors. Microcontrollers may be used to monitor and control engine speed and performance so as to maximize fuel economy and efficiency. In the not-too-distant future we will see "auto data recorders" much the same as those used in commercial aircraft. These types of information tools make extensive use of digital and microcontroller technologies. As you might expect, radio and other communication technologies installed in automobile, aircraft, and mass transit systems use digital technologies to enable satellite connections for communication, navigation, and entertainment.

New developments in road design and construction are leading to smart roads and bridges. The Virginia Department of Transportation maintains a "smart road test bed" just outside of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). "The Smart Road features weather-making capabilities (rain, snow, and fog), a variable lighting test bed, pavement markings, an onsite data-acquisition system, road-weather information systems, a differential GPS system, road access and surveillance, and a signalized intersection. Since its opening, transportation scientists and product developers have spent thousands of hours conducting research on this high-tech highway." (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 2012). …

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