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o r e Z , s p b u a t l e e s c o n r Ze intena ma e ercom v o s e t institu nsure p l e e t h e y n d ca nts, an t at i o n e n e m i r m e u instr w n ex p o l b l Vir tual l u ce p t s s of f n r o e i c r r g a n ri co s t b n gi n e e e i h f yo deliver By She


ena Jo



o integral are labs to study of higher sciences that a reputable engineering institute without a well-equipped lab is hard to think of. However, lab experiments are becoming increasingly cost-intensive due to the rising sophistication of newer hi-engineering streams such as microelectronics and very-large-scale integration (VLSI). Virtual Instrumentation (VI), which surfaced as cost-effective alternative to real lab experiments found early takers in the industry. Its benefits have been enormous not only for scientists and engineers but for markets too, as it enables quality improvements, shortens the development and testing cycles, and thereby helps lower costs. Consequently, VI has been used to significantly cut down dependence on reallab experiments in engineering institutes, globally. Still new to India In India VI is still more of a concept than a reality, among engineering institutes. Barring the IITs, not many institutes in India have introduced VI for simulation and analysis. Nevertheless, educators from engineering institutes have a positive view with regard to introduction of technology in the engineering process. Cost effectiveness is one of the major reasons for this encouraging trend. However, it is observed that a total replacement of actual laboratory experiments with virtual experiments is not encouraged. At the Apeejay College of Engineering, VI is used in B Tech programs of electronics and communication engineering, and electronics and instrumentation engineering; and for the M Tech program of instrumentation and control engineering. It is also used in areas related to digital image processing, control engineering, configuration of various control design and system solutions. Stressing on the need for VI in engineering colleges, Dr Nagaraj R, Professor and HoD at the Oxford College of Engineering, Bangalore, says that virtual instrumentation provides significant advantages at every stage of the engineering process— from research and design to manufacturing tests. “Thanks to virtual instrumentation, institutes can provide lab access to more number of students. It also gives students the opportunity to do experiments multiple times with different permutation and combinations. It provides more opportu-

“VI gives access to more number of students and opportunity to do experiments multiple times with different permutation and combinations” Rahul Deshmukh officer on special duty, CDEEP, IIT-Bombay

The Chennai COE

M V Muthuramalingam, Chairman, Velammal Educational Trust (extreme left) and Jayaram Pillai, Managing Director - India, Russia & Arabia, National Instruments (right) at the inauguration of ‘Virtual Instrumentation Centre’

In its bid to strengthen its research and development capabilities, as also to make designing easier for students, the Chennai-based Velammal Engineering College has recently tied up with National Instruments for establishing a Centre of Excellence (CoE) for promoting innovation and creativity in the field of VI. Emphasising on the importance of the collaboration, M V M Velmurugan, C.E.O Velammal Educational Trust says, “The aim is to benefit the college in terms of gaining domain expertise through research projects. Students shall learn industry relevant methods of making measurements & control and shall also gain practical knowledge which will help them gain placements in core multinational industries.” The focus of the centre is to work on research areas like embedded industrial control, image processing, robotic system design, measurement and automation, wireless sensor network by encouraging ideation and innovation through projects based on real world applications, access to industry events, educational workshops, and training sessions on NI’s LabVIEW. “Traditional lab experiments are limited by the instruments and restricted with syllabus. But the Virtual Instrumentation based laboratory experiments will nurture innovation and creativity in engineering and science education,” adds Velmurugan.

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Online Laboratories @ IIT Kharagpur

Lab-on-demand an IIT Kharagpur helps improve technology education through expansion of lab-based learning opportunities. Prof CK Maiti, Electronics and ECE, IIT Kharagpur explains the rationale, “It is mandatory to have laboratories for hands-on experience in all engineering and science programs. Laboratories demonstrate course concepts and ideas and develop hands-on skill of the students. However, a fully equipped laboratory usually results in a huge expense. Maintenance costs also can be significant. Additionally, teaching assistants are required to set up the laboratory, instruct in the laboratory, and grade laboratory reports.” “These are time-consuming and costly tasks which result in relatively low laboratory equipment usage, especially considering that laboratories are available only when equipment and teaching assistants are both available,” Prof Maiti points out. The Laboratory-on-Demand is an initiative of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of

nity to learn. Institutes can also save cost on the investment on setup,” says Rahul Deshmukh, Officer on special duty for Center for Distance Engineering Education Programme (CDEEP) at IIT, Bombay. It saves costs, time too A virtual control system laboratory simulation is considered to be more cost effective than the use of laboratory infrastructure, which demands heavy investments. Talking about the importance of virtual


India, under the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NME-ICT). Laboratory courses on hands-on experiments are an integral part of engineering education. The IIT Kharagpur ‘Microelectronics and VLSI Engineering’ Laboratory-on-Demand (LoD) is a remote microelectronics device characterization and parameter extraction laboratory. LoD helps learners to measure the different characteristics and extract device parameters of various microelectronics devices at any time and from anywhere using a Java-enabled web browser. The equipment required to conduct microelectronic device experiments are often very expensive, require trained manpower and adequate space, which makes the provision of hands-on experimental facility to individual student difficult in a traditional laboratory setup. Also, opportunities for experimental research by engineering students in India have been limited by the high cost of equipment.

laboratory experiments as compared to the usual lab experiments in engineering institutes, Dr Nagraj states, “The virtual laboratory will bridge physical distance and availability of resources in far off places. Today, it is possible to design good experiments among students for better learning using VI. Additionally, with virtual instruments, you can quickly develop a program, take measurements from an instrument to test a prototype, and analyse results, all in a fraction of the time required

Internet-based laboratory has been developed at IIT Kharagpur as a response to this problem. LoD is currently being used by the IIT students from their hostel rooms. It has also been tested by the faculty members from various universities and engineering colleges. Partner institutions include VIT University, Vellore and NIST, Berhampur. The IIT-Kharagpur ‘Microelectronics and VLSI Engineering Lab-on-Demand’ is open to students of engineering colleges in India. The Lab-@-Home is an initiative to develop virtual instrument-based online devices and circuits laboratory covering most of the experiments suggested in the AICTE model syllabi for all AICTEapproved engineering colleges in India offering undergraduate courses in electrical, electronics, electronics and communication, computer, instrumentation and IT. Currently, more than 15 experiments on electronic devices and circuits are available for the undergraduate students. Lab-@-Home from IIT Kharagpur enables students to characterise various semiconductor devices and circuits at any time and from anywhere using a Java-enabled web browser. Lab-@-Home is a complete solution for teachers for teaching the devices and circuits laboratory classes with students authentication, remote experiments, submission of online laboratory reports, holding test and vivavoce examinations, and finally grading the students and also preparing the grade sheet for the class. Lab-@-Home is available to all engineering colleges in India.


to build tests with traditional instruments.” However, Dr GRC Reddy, Director, National Institute of Technology, Calicut, cautions that virtual lab experiments can only supplement and not replace the usual lab experiments. According to Dr Sarbjit Singh, Executive Director, Apeejay College of Engineering, “Virtual laboratory experiments facilitate research scholars and engineering students to develop test and measurement, data acquisition, instrument control, data-

“VI clubbed with interactive boards is ideal for classroom teaching” vices are ideal for classroom teaching. Exposure to real instruments during lab sessions would also be essential. How would you rate India as compared to other developed countries with reference to ITenablement of engineering education? The penetration of IT so far in Indian education has been largely on administration side such as ERP. There are still mindset barriers in accepting and adopting IT for classroom education in regular academics. We are dealing with a generation that likes debate and not lectures. We have to be in sync with the new generation.

Mohammed Ghouse Country Manager, Business Communication, Scientech Technologies

Do you think training courses in engineering education is important? Hands-on training methodology and training courses are of great importance. We realised this long back and took strategic decisions resulting in Scientech Learning Centre, the training division of Scientech . We mould students to the industry atmosphere and expose them to various technologies. What are your views on the importance of virtual instrumentation in engineering institutes of India? We believe both real and virtual instruments are equally important. Virtual instruments in products like Tina (software) clubbed with interactive boards and de-


What are the upcoming technological innovations that could have a potentially revolutionary role in engineering education? There are several comprehensive product portfolio and truly innovative educational solutions and resources. TechLab and MiniLab include tools like oscilloscope, function generator and power supply in a single assembly. This is a perfect way of saving space and cost, especially in the academics. There are also hands-on learning methodology and tech books such as electronic platforms for theoretical learning and doing practical that are in great demand. Tech books are available for all basic and advanced communication and computing technologies. The Online University (www. platform is where the study modules are organically developed for easy understanding of subjects and topics. What is the importance of industryacademia collaborations in improving the quality of engineering education? We at Scientech strongly believe in more and more industry-institution interaction. The Scientech Learning Centre is a live example of that. The industry has plenty of resources and expertise which can be effectively utilised by the academia.

Dr GRC Reddy Director, National Institute of Technology, Calicut

“Virtual lab experiments shall only supplement and not replace the usual lab experiments”

logging, and measurement analysis applications.” He further emphasises that VI also helps in quick re-configuration of various control sub-systems, and easy and rapid integration and evaluation while developing projects for control engineering. “In a matter of a few hours, one can optimise and provide a cost-efficient solution. Another striking feature of virtual laboratory is that a group of students can participate to view the proposed solution in graphical form on the display screen, seek comments, modify on-line and arrive at an optimal solution,” he adds. Experts also suggest that virtual instruments are not just easy and quick to develop, it helps test and optimise control design systems without physical fabrication and hard-wire engineering. Besides, they have graphical interface, large library of functions and devices, and are reusable by any number of students. “Being software driven, VI can also facilitate a group of students to collaborate and participate in design and analysis sessions with distant institutions, universities and laboratories,” Dr Singh says. However, there is a lot more that needs to be done in order to familiarise Indian educational institutes with the concept of VI, by highlighting its benefits and also providing relevant knowledge and support for the installation of required infrastructure. \\

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digitalLEARNING-Oct-2010-[16-20]-Zero setup, Zero maintenance labs  

Virtual instrumen tation can help institutes delivery of hi-enginee ring concepts overcome cover story By sheena Joseph www.digitalLEARNING....

digitalLEARNING-Oct-2010-[16-20]-Zero setup, Zero maintenance labs  

Virtual instrumen tation can help institutes delivery of hi-enginee ring concepts overcome cover story By sheena Joseph www.digitalLEARNING....