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Virtual Instrument Systems in Reality - VISIR

An Open Source Software Initiative for Distributed Online Laboratories

  Background

The VISIR Initiative started at the department of Signal Processing in 1999 as a supplement to local instructional laboratories. The concept is about providing new possibilities for students to do laboratory work and become experimenters by adding a remote operation option to traditional instructional laboratories to make them more accessible for students, irrespective of whether they are on campus or mainly off campus. This option is equipped with a unique interface enabling students to recognize on their own computer screen instruments (oscilloscopes, waveform generators, multi-meters, power supplies, and solderless breadboards) which students have previously used in the local laboratory. This kind of new pedagogical tools supplement experiments in the local laboratory. Students are provided the opportunity to try their skills in new and less stressful environments where they may execute commands as many times as needed for understanding. This option provides the unlimited opportunity for repetition of experiments, training and understanding in remote control labs before an examination.   The project focuses on physically real equipment in the lab and has many benefits compared to simulation programs. Students can make “real” mistakes and come to a certain conclusion by their occurrence while simulators do not allow for such kind of conclusions. Physical experiments are necessary parts in many educational and professional activities, but practical issues of those experiments may create certain restrictions. Many technical institutes in the world are not able to provide the same high level of technical and experimental means for their students. Financial positions are often the most prominent problems. Many steps towards utilizing remote experiments have been made in simulated environments. Blekinge Institute of Technology was among the first to promote the new conception of real world experiments in remotely controlled education, and initiated a big interest worldwide. Now there is an opportunity to practically make use of the open source software and provide full access to experimental resources in a standardized way to students and others which may utilize web-based education.Today the department of Signal Processing has two online laboratories one electronics lab and one signal processing lab for mechanical vibration experiments based.

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The focus of the project

The focus of virtual instruments in education is to increase the use of information- and communication-technologies in the education system as well as in the industry. VISIR aims at forming a group of cooperating universities and other organizations, a VISIR Consortium, creating software modules using open source technologies for online laboratories and/or setting up online lab stations. During the recent decades the amount of laboratory work in engineering education, etc. has been reduced. Basically the number of students has increased, while staff and funding resources have diminished. The VISIR project is an initiative to provide means for sustainable development in the education system as well as in the industry. By enabling access to experimental equipment for everyone everywhere as well as providing new tools, makes marketing and installation of new education facilities more effective. The VISIR project creates opportunities enabling the development of competitive actors on a global education market and it is based on an initiative to create open source software to be used for distributed online laboratories.

Kretskort med mus

Since most engineering disciplines needs to provide means for practical experience in hand, the ideal outcome from the project would be a complete standardization of technical remote laboratories. Teachers, or other professional developers, can then develop individual experiments, even where manual interactivity is needed. BTH will act as a hub for the development and maintain a server from which the current version of the software can be downloaded. The server is already in place loaded with the software presently used in the electronics lab and the signal processing lab,

http://svn.openlabs.bth.se/trac.

In the VISIR project these two laboratories will be disseminated, enhanced, and further developed to distributed laboratories where the lab stations will be set up and maintained by a cooperating universities or other organizations. The Consortium will seek EU funding for common online laboratories.

The overall goal is increasing the access to experimental equipment worldwide. The means are shared online lab stations created by universities in cooperation and supported by instrument vendors. Sharing of laboratories may lead to sharing of course material. The ultimate goal of our research at the department of Signal Processing is ubiquitous physical experimental resources accessible 24/7 for everyone as a means of inspiring and encouraging children, young people and others to study engineering and become professionals or to be used as a means of life-long learning.

Blekinge Institute of Technology’s conception is that VISIR offers a high degree of variability from a pedagogic point of view and can also be expanded into other scientific spheres, such as mechanical engineering, physic, chemistry etc.

Recommended standards

Standards for instrument drivers are already available. VISIR recommends the standard IVI (Interchangeable Virtual Instrument). The IVI Foundation,

 http://www.ivifoundation.org/,

is a group of end‑user companies, system integrators, and instrument vendors, working together to define standard instrument programming APIs (Application Programming Interface). The IVI standards define open driver architectures, a set of instrument classes, and shared software components. Hardware platforms such as PXI (PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation),

http://www.pxisa.org/

or LXI (LAN eXtensions for Instrumentation),

http://www.lxistandard.org/home,

are recommended.

The concept will be expanded to laboratories for physical experiments in other areas which are feasible to perform experiments using remote operation.

A VISIR Consortium chaired by BTH will be formed to release new extended future versions.

Project organization and invitation to participate

The partners who have created the VISIR project are Axiom EduTech in Sweden, BTH, and National Instruments in USA. So far FH Campus Wien in Austria and University of Deusto in Spain are participating in the project. University of Genoa in Italy, Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Austria, Gunadarma University in Indonesia, UNINOVA (Institute for the Development of New Technologies) in Portugal, and University Transilvania of Brasov in Romania are interested to join the consortium. Other universities and organizations are most welcome to participate in the project. Please contact the project leader.

 Project leader: Ingvar Gustavsson

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