edX Embedded Systems Course Begins 22 Jan. 2014

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edX Embedded Systems Course Begins 22 Jan. 2014

Postby AL0I » Fri Jan 03, 2014 1:19 pm

Disclaimer: With regard to the following, I do not work for edX, the University of Texas at Austin or Texas Instruments. However, I did take the prototype MITx 6.002x: Circuits & Electronics course offered worldwide in the Spring of 2012, so I do have some hands-on experience with the edX program.

The edX Program is offering a number of online courses due to begin in the near future including one that may be of interest to amateur radio operators, educators and students at the secondary or higher level or anyone who wants to understand first-hand some of the issues facing developers of microcontroller-based cubesats like the FUNcubes. This course is called "Embedded Systems - Shape the World," and it is being taught by the University of Texas at Austin (UTAustinX in edX parlance). The course begins 22 January 2014 and lasts for 15 weeks. The course itself is free, but in order to qualify for an Honor Code certificate, you will have to obtain and use a lab kit including a Texas Instruments microcontroller kit and some additional components.

Here are the prerequisites for the course:
Computer programming course in any language with exposure to variables, arithmetic, logic, loops, and functions.
(The course will use the C programming language)
High school physics course covering current, voltage, resistance, and power.

See the edX site for general information about how the edX courses work:

See this page for information about an edX demo course:
https://www.edx.org/course/edx/edx-edxd ... -demo-1038

See these pages for information about the "Embedded Systems - Shape the World" UT.6.01x course in particular:
https://www.edx.org/course/utaustinx/ut ... stems-1172

See this page for additional information on the ARM Cortex-M4 Processor used in the course:
http://www.arm.com/products/processors/ ... cessor.php

Question 1: Why would an amateur radio operator be interested in this course?
Answer: Well, having already obtained an amateur radio license of some sort, you should already have the physics course requirements under your belt, so you only need a bit of programming experience to get the most out of the course. Also, if you have a well-stocked parts inventory (aka "junk box" to some), you may only need to purchase the TI microcontroller kit to have everything you need to take the course and get the certificate.

Question 2: What the heck does this course have to do with a FUNcube?
Answer: Go to the FUNcube site ( http://funcube.org.uk/ ) and look at the links under "Space segment." You will find that FUNcubes (and just about every other cubesat) are systems that are controlled by one or more microcontrollers. So you will be getting hands-on experience with a comparable microcontroller, and you will have to interface that microcontroller with external components and program the microcontroller just as the FUNcube developers did with the FUNcubes. (Perhaps the FUNcube developers can comment briefly on just how comparable the actual FUNcube microcontrollers are to the TI microcontroller students will use in the course.)

Question 3: I like the Dashboard software. I want the Dashboard software. Why isn't it available on {insert favorite OS or embedded platform here}?
Answer: If you sift through the posts on this forum and the comments on the FUNcube site, many are lamenting the lack of a FUNcube Dashboard for their computer operating system (MacOS, Linux, etc.) or embedded system (Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, etc.) of choice. As in most endeavors, the folks behind FUNcube are trying to accomplish a great deal with limited resources. Their approach to making the Dashboard software widely available has been to make most of the source code necessary for such an application publicly available and hope that capable individuals will use that source code to create Dashboards for a variety of platforms:

"We have already developed an engineering version of the FUNcube Dashboard but what is required now is to create some versions suitable for children of different age groups. We will be making the core software generally available under a Creative Commons licence before launch so potential collaborators are encouraged to contact us for more information" ( http://funcube.org.uk/ground-segment/gui/ )

"We have however developed with other operating systems in mind, the core audio sampling, tracking, FEC decoding code is all c/c++ and has been compiled on linux." ( viewtopic.php?f=3&t=121#p529 )

So when someone complains that the Dashboard is not available for "their" system, the FUNcube developers are collectively rolling their eyes and wondering "why did we bother to publish all those specifications?". If your response is "well, I would like to help with the Dashboard software, but I don't know what to do with the specifications and supporting documents," then that is another reason to consider taking this edX embedded systems course (or something like it). This course is not going to make you an expert in embedded systems like the Raspberry Pi, and it isn't going to make you an expert in the C programming language. But it is a good first step on the road to making you one of the capable individuals mentioned above who has the ability to take an arbitrary set of requirements (like the FUNcube Dashboard) and to be able to implement those requirements on an arbitrary embedded platform.

Question 4: I teach children in their mid to late teens. What does this course have to do with STEM, and what is it going to do for me?
Answer: Courses like this are STEM on steroids because they encourage and require ALL of the STEM components (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in a non-stop problem solving environment. By taking the course yourself, you can get some ideas and practical experience to apply in the classroom. If you have advanced students who meet the prerequisites, then the course may make an excellent independent study program for them, particularly in a school that may not otherwise have the physical resources or teaching staff to provide it. The sticking point may be the cost of the lab materials, but it may not be necessary for each student to purchase a set of lab materials. In other words, if you have a dozen students, then they may be able to share three or four sets of lab materials, particularly if they are using the lab materials individually at different times of the day or during different class periods. I would suggest asking the edX course staff in the course forum if this is an acceptable thing to do.

Question 5: English is not my native language. Is the course available in my native language?
Answer: Maybe. The edX program has been wrestling with the issue of how to break the language barrier from its inception. MITx staff made use of captioning and transcription even in the prototype course in Spring 2012. I would suggest that you ask the edX course staff in the course forum what languages the course is available in. If you speak English and another language, and you are willing to help course staff with transcriptions/captioning for languages other than English, I am sure the edX staff would love to hear from you.

A Suggestion: Obviously, it is to your advantage to get the lab materials as quickly as possible if you plan to take the course. If you are taking the course as part of a group (school class, amateur radio club, workplace training, etc.), look into the possibility of getting a quantity discount on the lab materials. Even if you can't get a quantity discount, it might save some money on shipping to make one large purchase rather than a number of smaller ones.
Last edited by AL0I on Sat Jan 04, 2014 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: edX Embedded Systems Course Begins 22 Jan. 2014

Postby csete » Sat Jan 04, 2014 10:24 am

Your claim that the dashboard sourcecode has been published is incorrect.
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Re: edX Embedded Systems Course Begins 22 Jan. 2014

Postby AL0I » Sat Jan 04, 2014 11:57 am

Sorry, I stand corrected. I actually had the project documentation on this page in mind as I was writing that paragraph:


As someone who has been using a Linux distribution for day-to-day use for many years, I suppose I'm a little impatient, and wishful thinking got the better of me.
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