Introducing Students to Communications Concepts Using Optical and Low-Power Wireless Devices


Abstract: Wireless communication has become an important feature for commercial products and a popular research topic within the last ten years. There are now more mobile phone subscriptions than wired-line subscriptions. Lately, one area of commercial interest has been low-cost, low-power, and short-distance wireless communication used for "personal wireless networks." Technology advancements are providing smaller and more cost effective devices for integrating computational processing, wireless communication, and a host of other functionalities. These embedded communications devices will be integrated into applications ranging from homeland security to industry automation and monitoring. They will also enable custom tailored engineering solutions, creating a revolutionary way of disseminating and processing information. With new technologies and devices come new business activities, and the need for employees in these technological areas. Engineers who have knowledge of embedded systems and wireless communications will be in high demand. Unfortunately, there are few affordable environments available for development and classroom use, so students often do not learn about these technologies during hands-on lab exercises. The goal of a development and teaching effort was to create a low-power embedded system that could be used to teach wireless communication hardware and protocols. This paper presents the experiences of introducing board-to-board communication concepts and hardware into the classroom. The communication mediums were twisted pair, optical fiber, infrared, and finally wireless radio. Also addressed are specific assessments of student skills that were needed as a prerequisite and successes based on prerequisites. A design of additional hardware is presented. Also, a future class that builds on these tools is suggested.

Keywords: Embedded systems, wireless communications, hands-on learning, IEEE 802.15.4, Bluetooth, optical, infrared

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