LAB: Lab Aboard a Box
Anyway, the idea is to package a complete laboratory related to an electronics engineering student in a box. And an affordable one too. Affordable by a student. These days, a student can afford to buy a laptop, so she should be able to buy such a LAB too.
One common lament one hears regularly is why should I go to the lab? What is there in a lab that is exciting for me? This is not me but a regular electronics engineering student talking. Maybe, students from other fields also say similar things. I don't know. But what I know for sure is that increasingly, an electronics engineering lab looks no different than a computer lab. A collection of desktop computers offering simulation programs. And interestingly, students can afford their own laptops equipped with pirated or freeware simulation programs and poof! No need to go to the lab. At all.
This is probably the single biggest reason for the disenchantment towards electronics amongst the student community, aided and abetted by our curriculum that encourages 'simulation engineering' alone with no emphasis on hands-on activities and skills related to such activities. Whatever little semblance of lab that may exist is further killed by a black-box approach to experiments - a box that has input wires, power supply wires and output wires. You come, turn the power supply on, take reading on a multimeter or an oscilloscope (or better still, use ones from a previous batch!) and you are done. In such a situation, there is neither any motivation nor any pressure to dig deeper.
The implications are staring us in our face. No path breaking Indian electronics product! Forget path breaking, not even established products of impeccable quality produced locally. The local demand is easily met by the 'CKD/SKD' approach. To the uninitiated, CKD refers to 'completely knocked down' or SKD is 'semi knocked down'; ways in which consumer product kits are imported and screwdriver assembled locally with little or no value addition. One of the 'premier' institutes, much touted as producing world class engineers were recently in news for simply providing testing support for the Chinese manufactured 'Akash' Tablet. That support job was also taken off and given to another such premier institute.
The prognosis for this malaise, if let as it is, is not very pretty either. What can we do to arrest this decline? A proactive, student-friendly approach should be adopted. Till recently, students could not afford personal desktop computers or laptops. Now, it is a common sight. It has led to increased student interest in software development field. Perhaps, a similar approach could be adopted for electronics engineering? This is where the LAB steps in.
We, at CEDT are embarking on a project to put a Lab in a box. The critical components would be:
1. Measurement instruments (an oscilloscope and a logic analyzer a signal generator, a multimeter, an LCR bridge)
2. Power Supply (+5V, 0-24V, +/-5V)
3. INSPIRE Kit (a boxful of electronic components).
4. Box of tools (a snipper, a wire stripper, watchmaker files, screwdriver set, en eye loupe etc).
5. Hacker tools: USB to JTAG/SPI/ISP/Whatever converter.
6. Popular Microcontroller/DSP evaluation boards: Arduino, Raspi, FPGA, DSP (TI's C2000?).
Target audience: every electronics student/enthusiast anywhere in the world
What do you think? Your valuable assessment, feedback and suggestions would go a long way in deciding the future course of action. I plan to use a control group at NSIT for evaluation and if support can be generated, distribute the LAB to others outside NSIT!