Curriculum and Labs for Engineering Education

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Teaching Digital Electronics and VHDL Design with LabVIEW FPGA

Drs. Joe Morgan and Jay Porter of the Texas A&M University Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution are working with Troy Perales, a graduate student in the program, to implement lab exercises based on NI LabVIEW FPGA software. The team took a unique approach to develop the exercises, using the HDL Node in the LabVIEW FPGA Module to implement all of the basic digital building blocks, such as multiplexers and flip-flops, in VHDL and wrap the functions in LabVIEW subVIs. This approach is especially effective because students can open the blocks and look into the underlying VHDL implementations. Subsequently, they learn schematiclevel logic design, VHDL, and an industry tool such as LabVIEW.

“LabVIEW FPGA gives us a smooth way to go from theory to real implementation without exorbitant time spent learning a tool,” said Porter, program director.

This typical laboratory experiment teaches students how to create a finite state machine using basic digital building blocks. Each of these VIs can be opened to reveal the underlying HDL code for the particular function.

The class is organized using standard digital curriculum where students learn basic logic, sequential logic, truth tables, Karnaugh maps (K-maps), and theorems. The hands-on lab exercises, implemented using LabVIEW, help students use theory to implement real-world objectives like pulse-width modulation, binary-coded decimal conversion, quadrature encoders, and state machines. Because LabVIEW FPGA is easily integrated with hardware, students compile, test, and run their code directly on the academic Xilinx Spartan 3E Starter Kit. For their final project, students use the Spartan 3E board to program a mobile platform to compete on a line-following course and a straight-line drag race – and each team must have a fully working machine to earn a passing grade.

“This type of theory-to-implementation teaching is what students at many universities lack when they graduate,” Morgan said. “It is important for students to understand the details and debugging issues that arise when you put theory to practice.”

This new curriculum is only one part of the A&M engineering professors’ strategy to implement a complete digital sequence from simple logic to programming microcontrollers. In fact, they will present this new approach at the 2009 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference & Exposition in June.

Anita B
Applications Engineer
National Instruments
NI Employee (retired)

Very nicely done lab documents.