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Learning an Online Control Experiment

Platform Using Labview Software
K.S Alli, A.M. Jubril, and B.OAkinwale.
AbstractThis paper illustrates the design of DC control experiments using i-lab interactive architecture. The developed
control experiments involved the implementation of virtual instruments to produce digital controllers with Graphical User
Interface using LabVIEW software, to ease students in performing position control, speed control and system modeling of the
DC servomotor experiments platform. This experiments platform is deployed online using Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(M.I.T) interactive laboratory architecture. PID controller was used to control the output response and stabilize the control
system. Interactive software is developed to help the students to visualize and analyze the system.
Index TermsLabVIEW, i-Lab, PID Controller.


he field of automation control system is largely

unexplored in the underdeveloped and the developing countries. Few universities undergo course work
in control system and engineering and even fewer have
labs for servo control system. This is the case despite the
fact that the field of automation control system stands as
one of the most promising of the future. Even though,
the economy of the world depends on servo control [1].
Laboratories allow the student with hands-on experience
in using various equipment in the profession thus, ensuring that they can cope with real devices and systems
and their inherent challenges. An advantage of placing
experiments online can allow multiple campuses to
share the laboratory equipments inorder to foster collaboration between educational institutions, thereby
enabling a more comprehensive learning experience for
staff and students. However, the availability of experiment setups and laboratories can go a long way in facilitating the development of any technological system and
hence, country or region. The buoyancy, dexterity and
robustness of internet technologies have given rise to the
field of online experimentation. The various advantages
of placing laboratories online have fuelled the development of this new sphere of laboratory work with a lot of
research on-going [1]. There is a shortage of online experiments in the field of control system engineering while
the global set of experiments available on the internet
grows. This research work was prompted by the lack of
laboratories and lectures in the field of control systems
engineering in the authors environment. The focus of

this study was to expand the set of online experiments in

the control engineering field by introducing newbies to
control system. The research work attempts to present
an intermediate approach of using the web in an interactive manner for helping the student in putting up the
laboratory report and to familiarize him with the physical set-up and running of the equipment before performingthe physical experiment. It is designed to enable the
students to work in a more efficient manner so that they
can spend more time in the class on the analysis of data
they have just obtained. The set of online experiments
which this research work put up are based on a servomechanism control system implementing PID controller.
There were three experiments set up at the ObafemiAwolowo University by this research effort. The experiments
i. The position control experiment
ii. The speed control experiment
iii. The system modeling experiment

2.3 Review
Below is an account of some of the existing online control engineering laboratories that are relevant to this
study. [16] developed an online DC motor position control experiments. The experiment involves two primary
elements: a server and a client PC communicating with
each other. A server consists of a low-cost microcontroller, Parallaxs 40-pin Basic Stamp 2 (BS2P40), interfaced
with an embedded Ethernet IC, Cirrus Logics Crystal
CS8900A, and the client computer sends/receives com
mand data to/from the microcontroller using User Da K.S. Alli, Ph.D Student at the Department of Electronic and Electrical
tagram Protocol (UDP) packets. The client PC estabEngineering, ObafemiAwolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
lished connection to the server using Java applets that
A.M. Jubril is with the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineer- allow the user to send command position of the motor
ing, ObafemiAwolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
via a client interface. At the University of Western Australia (UWA), a telerobot laboratory has been deployed
OlawaleAkinwale is with the Department of Electronic and Electrical En- using an ABB robot. This laboratory enables students to
gineering, ObafemiAwolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
perform kinematics experiment [24]. The users were required to download and install a client application be-

fore they can run the experiment. The client application

was designed in LabVIEW. The client application submits the users typed to the remote lab server for authentication and then sends in data for the control of the telerobot. Students were required to perform thekinematics
experiment of the telerobot and, based on their computations, command the telerobot to pick and place items on
a chequered surface. The task required them to set given
proportional, integral and derivative gains for a controller in the laboratory on the client interface, and measure
performance parameters such as rise time and overshoot. The Students experience report shows the online
laboratory was very impressing and added highly skills
to their learning ability. The laboratory can be found
at [1] has developed
a robust ilab platform for performing robotic arm experiments. Three experiments were developed on the robotic arm platform: position control experiment, an experiment on the effect of gravity on the control of the
robotic arm and a trajectory planning experiment. The
experiments were designed using LabVIEW software.
This experiments platform was deployed online using
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) interactive
i-lab architecture. The existing batched i-lab (Internet
Laboratory) architecture of ObafemiAwolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria was also upgraded to support the interactive architecture and provide visual feedback to the
users. In this work, there was that there was error of non
linearity in the motor movement of the robotic arm in
response to the linear input. This problem could be
solved by introducing PID controller to the robotic arm
system which would give the users control over the torques movement of the individual motors. However, the
robotics arm platform, for an online experiment has been
used at the university in teaching students at undergraduate level as part of their academics curriculum (Rotobic Engineering). A Web-Based Remote Laboratory Experimentation was developed by [18] at the Department of
Electrical andComputer Engineering, National Universityof Singapore, which allows electrical engineering students to control the real instrument through the internet
connection and perform oscilloscope experimentation
remotely which manipulate the real instruments through
virtual instruments interface developed by 3D modeling.The exploitation of live video reduces the complexity
of 3D modeling as well as promises a higher visual quality scene. The software and hardware structure of this
video system was introduced. A remote laboratories
system was deployed by [25] at the University of Western Australia provides a useful learning environment for
mechatronics skills, particularly the combination of
technical skills and project management. The developed
remote laboratories framework was to overcome one of
the main limitations of other approaches that seem to
account for the difficulties in real implementations: the
cost and complexity of technical support needed for development and maintenance. The students learning skills
process led to this project development. The design provides a technical environment that is simple enough for
undergraduate students to understand and make effec-

tive contributions. An online laboratory has been deployed at the School of Engineering, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) by [22]. The laboratory is
called the eMersion Remote laboratory or the eMersion
project. Experiments deployed in this laboratory in the
field of automatic control include an inverted pendulum
experiment and a servo drive experiment. The third experiment deployed is a thermal process training experiment. The eMersion project calls the client application
used for its experiments the Cockpit. The Cockpit comprises an experimentation component, a java applet
which serves as the experiment engine, a SysQuake remote component php applications which students send
theirexperiment specifications and receiveexperiment
results, and an eJournal which is an electronic version of
the traditional laboratory journal or laboratory notebook[7] developed an Automatic Control Telelab
(ACT) was developed at the University of Siena. In this
laboratory, the laboratory users were required to design
a PID controller for the experiment they wish to perform. The design is done using MathWorkss Simulink.
The user uploads his designed controller to the laboratory before performing the experiment.This remote laboratory experiment allowed the students with the opportunity of performing experiments with laboratory apparatus which are not readily available in such students
reachable environment and to relate in practice some
theoretical knowledge of control theory gain in the classroom in an easy way and without restrictions due to
laboratory opening time and processes availability. At
Faculty of Engineering, Albaha University, KSA, [9] developed Metrology educators to the use and adoption of
Java-applets in order to create virtual, online Metrology
laboratories for students. These methods have been used
to form a laboratory course which augments the more
conventional lectures in concepts of Metrology course.
Improvements of the package are still were incorporated
to Web-based technologies (Internet home page, HTML,
Java programming etc). This Web-based education and
training has been tested in classroom within an undergraduate preliminary year engineering course and students reported a positive experience with its use. At
Baskent University, Ankara, Turkey, [8] have conducted
a study for analyzing the performances of the computer
engineering students on the Lab Sessions of Computer
Network Course, in both theoretical and practical modes. The weekly scores gathered from the lab sessions
throughout the academic semesters of 2007-2008, 20082009 and 2009-2010 by usingOne-way and Two-way
Anova and Chi-Square tests were analyzed. However,
students opinion about the course and lab sessions were
analyzed by questionnaires at the end of each semester
during 3 years. [6] have developed a web-based laboratory for control engineering at the University of Bologna.
This involves implementation of a rotary flexible joint, a
ball and beam, a flexible link and a Furuta pendulum. In
the remote laboratory, a service broker authenticates the
user and thus, granting a user access to the laboratory,
designed SIMULINK controller model, MATLAB workspace variables file (MAT-file) andMATLAB m-function

file(s) (m-file) were to be uploaded by the user to the

laboratory. The laboratory server verifies the uploaded
file that it conforms to a template model which is available for download from the laboratory. Hence, the laboratory server simulates the uploaded controller on a model
of the plant and verifies the system response for instability and critical behaviour. The user is notified to design
another controller, if the designed model fails either of
these two above tests. However, the laboratory server
prompts the remote user to press the start button in order to run the real experiment, if the model passes both
tests. At the end experiment, all experimental data are
stored in a MATLAB workspace file which is made
available for download by the laboratory user. The development of Internet Assisted Laboratories (i-Labs) in
cooperation between the Stanford Center for Innovations
in Learning, California and the Learning Laboratory
Lower Saxony, Germany within the Wallenberg Global
Learning Network (WGLN) have been reported by [5]. It
was reported that one of their experiments uses a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) for the control of a
process engineering plant. The experiment entails
movement of fluid between differenttanks and heating
the fluid in a reactor.Students are required to program
the controller for the process control. The i-Lab came in
year 2003 to ObafemiAwolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria in partnership with MIT. Over the years2003 to 2011,
six i-Lab projects have been deployed into the university
which are Op-amp lab, Logic circuit lab, i-Lab Sim
(Strength of material simulation lab), MITs microelectronic lab FPGA (Advanced Digital lab), Robotic Arm
lab. Hence, since year 2011, the developed experiments
in this laboratory have been introduced as part of the
Servomechanism Control Principle (EEE407) course curriculum taken at undergraduate level in evaluating students performance. However, it has allowed multiple
campuses and fostered collaboration between educational institutions most especially thus, enabling a more
comprehensive learning experience for staff and students.

3.1 Methodology
The DC Motor control experiments platform was set up
which consists of Quanser DC Motor mounted on the
National Instruments Educational Laboratory Virtual
Instruments (NI ELVIS II) unit which has an inbuilt Data
Acquisition Device and connected to power supply. This
experiment platform was connected to the PC with LabVIEW Runtime via a USB cable. In this research, the
developed control experiments involved the implementation of virtual instruments to produce digital controllers with Graphical User Interface using LabVIEW software. Three experiments were designed which involved
the implementation of virtual instruments to produce a
digitally control client interface. NI-ELVIS II suite software was installed on the PC running LabVIEW software which allows user to take commands and monitor
the DC motor control system performance by varyingdifferent control parameters. This experiment platform

was deployed online using Massachusetts Institute

Technology (MIT) interactive architecture. The MIT iLab interactive service broker was configured alongside
with an experiment storage server, a user-side scheduling, a lab-side scheduling server and an interactive lab
server. Evaluation was also carried out the control system performance whereby students were to perform
these online control experiments by giving them experiment procedures laboratory manuals includes steps
involves on how to make reservation to perform these
online control experiments. One of the design considerations was that the laboratory (the experiments, the
clients and the documentation) should be intuitive
enough for a user not previously familiar with servo
control system, the users were asked to perform the experiments without a physical instructor giving instructions and students were to submit log book reports in
accessing their depth of understanding of the control
experiments and questionaires were being administered
to the users to state their observed lab experience. In the
position control, the input and output transducers must
measure input and output shaft angles, and produces a
control signal (or known as error) proportional to the
angle between the shafts. Fig. 1shows the block diagram
for closed loop position control system.
A. Objectives of the closed-loop position control system experiment.
To examine the impact of Proportional-Integral- Derivative (PID) controller on the position control of the
DC servo control system.
To reduce the steady-state error ( ), settling time
( ) and steady-state time ( ) of the DC servo control

3.2 Speed Control System Experiment

The speed of the DC motor is regulated using a proportional-integral control system. The block diagram of
the closed-loop system is shown in Figure 4. The transfer
function representing the DC motor speed-voltage is
used to design the PI controller. The input-output relation in the time-domain for a PI controller with set-point
weighting is
( )
u= +

where is the proportional gain, is the integral gain

and is the set-point weight. The closed loop transfer
function from the speed reference, r, to the angular motor speed output, using Masons formular is



, (s)=


The standard desired Closed-loop Characteristic polynomial is

S 2 +2 + 2 (3)

Fig.3: Position Control Graph Display

Fig.1:General Block Diagram for Closed Loop Position

Control System
where is the undamped closed-loop frequency and
is the damping ratio.





Large value of give large value of controller gain.

The damping ratio, and the set-point weight
ter, can be used to adjust the speed and overshoot of
the response to reference values. However, tominimize
the noise of the measured signal and increase the overall
robustness of the system, the first-order low-pass filter



is used. Parameter

3.3 Quanser DC Motor Control System

The DC Motor control Trainer comprises of a directcurrent motor with an inertia wheel on the motor shaft,
which is mounted on an NI ELVIS II with an inbuilt
DAQ which converts the analogue rotation of the motor
shaft to digital form and allowed data to be read from
the encoder. The motor is driven by a pulse-width modulated (PWM) power amplifier. The voltage applied to
the motor is the control variable which drives amplifier
of the system and the output is either the wheel speed or
the angular position of the wheel.The set up processes
are connected to a PC running the National Instruments
Programming environment LabVIEW. As shown in Fig.
4, the QNET board slides with the NIELVIS II [26].

is the filter constant determines

the cutoff frequency and is the measured speed

signal. In the laboratory, the use of various ProportionalDerivative gains were used to track a square wave were
discussed and the effect of steady-state errors, settling
time and percentage overshoot with respect to a square
wave reference were also investigated.
A. Objectives of the speed control experiment
To observe the speed control of the DC servomechanism control system by applying different control
inputs. Fig.2 shows the Speed Control Block Diagram
To regulate the speed of the motor shaft using a
proportional-integral (PI) controller.

Fig. 2: Speed Control Block Diagram

Fig. 4: QNET board slides with the NI ELVIS II

A. Details and outcomes of the lab experiments
i. Title Page: It includes the title of each experiment. The
user has to follow instructions given on each page of the
procedure manual after launching the program to complete the online experiment successfully.
ii. Introduction: This aspect involves the aims of experiment, some important definitions related to experiments,
procedures for the proceeding pages of the online program.
iii. Input section: This section involves interactions with
the clients interface and users have to select proper inputs to proceed with the online experiment. When users
enter an input configuration, each parameter generates a
specific number and thus, forms a set of numbers. They
were to adjust the controller inputs to a set of values and
examine the behaviours of the measured speed (red line)
with respect to the reference position (blue line) in the
position (rad) scope and to explain what has happened.


Also, users were to observe the effect of changing the

controller input and state their observed difference of
the changing the controllers. The graphical chart is indicated in Figure 3.
iv. Learning Outcomes: The users were asked to explain
the effect of each controller on both output speed and
position controls of the DC motor, to find the motor
transfer function (Order of the System) after specifying
the control input and the systems parameters and also
explained the purpose of the feedback control experiments related to their control theory.

4.1 Results
A. User Experience.
The users allotted reservation times for each experiments
is between 10 and 30 minutes. The maximum time that a
student was permitted to reserve was 30 minutes for
each experiment. The students were asked to answer
questionnaires, and relate their responses to log file
records. About 120 students responded to the questionnaire, 80% of the students used the system while20% of
the students managed to operate the remote lab for more
than 10 minutes.The assessments presented here are
based on feedback from the twenty-five students who
successfully performed the experiments.
Laboratory effectiveness: The average score given by
the users for the effectiveness of the laboratory (i.e. the
experiment clients and the available documentation) was
Level of understanding: From the questions asked the
students sequel to their performing the experiments, the
average assessment of the depth of their understanding
of the concepts being taught, introduced and experimented in the laboratory was seventy-five percent.
Users Rating of the Laboratory: The average user rating was 70%.
Some of the faculty members who were involved in the
development of the online servomechanism control experiments have contributed in discussions with the faculty members who are responsible for supervising the
instruction of the core control systems at undergraduate
courses. The concerns expressed about the student interest and depth of understanding in the online servomechanism control experiments were almost identical to
the concerns raised about the undergraduate control
courses prior to the introduction of the servo control
based lab courses. The overall students performance
results in EEE407 which involved both theory and the
online practical sessions show that out of 120 students,
40% had Excellent, 35% had Good, 20% hadAverage, 4%
had Poor and 1% had Very Poor. Also, in addition to the
efforts made by the faculty members to contribute to the
students learning process, they also organized several
LabVIEW trainings for the students so as to familiarize
the students with LabVIEW based projects.

B. Users complaints
A number of users complained about not having the
correct full specified time to schedule, while they could
not launch the lab client interface. It was discovered that
differences in the times between the individual computers and the Laboratory-Side Scheduling Server were
causing these disparities. To resolve this, the documentation was updated to inform users to synchronize their
times with the Internet Time, for example, from This was resolved when they
changed the time zone setting of their computer to that
for Nigeria (GMT +1). The documentation for the laboratory was accordingly updated to specify that users check
the time zone settings of their computer to ensure that
they have the right time zone selected.Another problem
which surfaced on the need for the LabVIEW Runtime
was the fact that it was practically impossible to perform
the experiments from a cybercafe as one would have to
have the Runtime installed on the computer there. No
cybercafe around was eager to have some extra software installed on their computers - extra software to
further clog their registries and reduce computer speeds
bearing in mind that they mostly use minimum spec
computers. Hence, as long as LabVIEW clients were to
be used, it was decided that students performing the
experiments would have to use computers over which
they have some amount of control or dedicated computers provided by their faculty or departments.
An online laboratory has been set up at the ObafemiAwolowo
at The position control experiment introduces newbies to the workings of a servo
control system. The effect of PID controller to reduce the
overshoot, steady-state error and settlingtime were investigated. The speed control experiment allows students to observe the effect of PI controller to reduce
steadystate error on the speed of DC motor. The system
modeling experiment is a medium whereby users specified some set of system parameters to some test input to
model the DC motor. Hence, work lies ahead on ways of
minimizing the laboratorys bandwidth requirements
while still presenting the necessary visual, auditory and
possibly haptic feedback to the user [4] and minimizing
simulations which could give students the feel of being
in a virtual laboratory instead of an online laboratory.
Experience gained from the setting up of this laboratory
showed that the overall development time to deploy a
new laboratory could be drastically reduced if LabVIEW
is used for the development of the experiment engines
and the clients. One reason for this is that one does not
need to develop separate applications for the client application and the experiment engine. Also, in creating a
LabVIEW application, one automatically creates a GUI
for it hence; there is no need for creation of a GUI for the
client application. The laboratory design was made to be
robust so that it is safe for use without human supervision.


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