The story of IIT Bombay’s experiments with Arduino and Scilab

By Prabhakar Deshpande

IIT Bombay recently conducted a workshop on Arduino and Scilab. Around 150 members from academia – faculty and students – attended the event, making the workshop a grand success. The purpose of the workshop was to conduct microcontroller experiments with Arduino  and Scilab. The attendees were provided with  an Arduino board and other accessories as part of their practice kit. The participants were also provided with a text book. Most participants brought their own laptop.

A Micro-controller is a smart digital circuit that contains processor, memory, input/output peripherals on a single integrated circuit. It functions as a small computer and finds various applications. Micro controllers find application in automotive domain(steering, braking etc), household appliances(washing machine, oven etc), telecommunication(Mobile phones, routers, switches etc), medical(MRI, ultrasound, dental imaging etc) and other areas.

Arduino is an open source micro controller board and a software  development environment. Arduino language is similar to ‘C’. Arduino project was started at Interaction Design Institute,Ivrea, Italy. Arduino uses expansion boards known as ‘shields’ to enhance functionality. There are many variants of Arduino boards. The workshop used Arduino Uno board.

Scilab is an open source computing software for science and engineering applications. Scilab is often seen as a competitor to Matlab. Scilab has hundreds of inbuilt functions for catering to various areas – signal processing, statistics, optimization etc. Scilab can connect to Arduino through toolbox.

Xcos is graphical editor for Scilab. The advantage with Xcos is the interactive interface and easy connectivity across blocks. Xcos supports looping and conditional statements. Xcos comes pre-installed with Scilab.

The workshop conducted experiments with Arduino UNO and Arduino IDE. The workshop also explored experiments with Arduino UNO and Scilab. Finally the workshop conducted experiments with Arduino UNO and Xcos. Some of the experiments explored in the workshop included – interfacing a Light Emitting Diode, interfacing a DC Motor, interfacing a Pushbutton, interfacing a Potentiometer, interfacing a Light Dependent Resistor and so on.

A book was published just couple of days before the workshop – ‘Microcontroller experiments through Arduino and Scilab’. This constituted text for the workshop and was given to participants. The book had been written by 12 authors within 2-3 weeks just before the workshop. Writing the book was a challenge, as it had to be written in a short duration of time . The book contains not just theoretical introduction to Arduino and Scilab, but also contains information on all the practical sessions performed in the workshop. Hence the book had to go through multiple drafts to ensure that all the experiments to be performed were accurately described. In a survey conducted about the book, almost 55.1% of respondents felt that the book was good and additional 42.9% of respondents felt that book was very good, thus almost 98% of respondents describing book in positive terms.

As earlier mentioned, workshop participants were given a kit containing Arduino UNO board and other accessories. This included Arduino UNO board itself which cost around Rs. 750. Participants were give an expansion shield which cost around Rs. 400. The shield was designed at IIT and a PCB and components were procured and soldering was done at IIT itself. Participants were given a motor driver controller costing around Rs. 100. Apart from this participants were given a DC motor, wires etc. All in all, the kit given at workshop cost around Rs. 1250.

The workshop was a success in that participants were able to perform experiments. Such practical based workshops are difficult to conduct, because it involves lot of preparation. However they are more effective than theoretical workshops. During the workshop, volunteers helped participants when they encountered difficulties.

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