Pocket-Sized Portable Labs: Control Engineering Practice Made Easy

Activity Organiser

Paulo Moura Oliveira (University of Trás-os-montes and Alto Douro (UTAD), Vila Real, Portugal)


The best way to motivate students to enroll in control engineering is by showing and demonstrating that simple practical experiments may be easily accomplished using portable pocket-size laboratories. Portable kits based in Arduino and Raspberry Pi can be both used within presential classes by students and lecturers as well as at home. This portable feature has proved yet more important due to the Covid-19 pandemic times. An excellent example of a pocket-sized Arduino is called Temperature Control Laboratory (TCLab) [1]. This activity consisted (mostly) in demonstrating the TCLab kit to easily conduct simple practical temperature control experiments.

This project overall objectives are twofold:

  1. to promote automatic control as transversal scientific area to engineering courses
  2. to motivate secondary school students to pursuit their university studies with control engineering courses.

This activity was organized under the auspices of the Portuguese Association for Automatic Control (APCA) and executed during from January 2021 to the end of June 2021. The activity involved organizing:

  1. a workshop for secondary school teachers lecturing in engineering areas related to control engineering.
  2. demonstration sessions in secondary schools for both students and teachers. These sessions were initially planned to take place in selected schools and Universities in Portugal.

By introducing the TCLab and demonstrating how does it works. Due to the SARS-CoV 2 confinement in place in Portugal at the time of the project execution, it was not possible to organize an in-class workshop for teachers. Thus, the workshop was organized on-line, as a Webinar, on the 14th of May 2021 between 17h-18h. The overall workshop aim was to motivate teachers to include TCLab experiments in their classes. A call for this workshop participation was sent to a list of teachers working in secondary/professional schools. A TCLab kit was offered to each teacher which participated in the Workshop and a hands-on tutorial was provided afterwards, allowing them to test both the hardware and basic programs to control TClab transistors temperature. Showing where to find a repository of useful information, freely available, so they can support their own control experiences with TCLab. As some registered teachers could not attend the Webinar due to overlapped professional duties, the presentation was made available in YouTube in [2,3].

If teachers were successfully motivated in workshops, demonstration sessions can be organized in target secondary schools, with appropriate curricular units. These sessions objectives are: i) showing why feedback control systems are crucial by presenting motivating application examples ii) performing a TCLab hands-on demo. How? Provide a set of TCLab kits in each school and show students how to learn by playing with it. Three visits were performed to the following Portuguese schools:

  • Escola Secundária de Monserrate located in the city of Viana do Castelo. This visit took place on the 29th of April, 2021.
  • Escola Secundária de Avelar Brotero located in the city of Coimbra. This visit took place on the 4th of May, 2021.
  • Escola Secundária do Fundão located in the city of Fundão. This visit took place on the 20th of May, 2021.

[1] Hedengren J. D. (2019), Temperature Control Lab Kit, https://apmonitor.com/heat.htm
[2] YouTube Webinar Presentation (In Portuguese): https://youtu.be/7uOEUtbSzAs
[3] YouTube Webinar Presentation (English version in): https://youtu.be/R8gOPLlYszg