ARM has started to provide development kits for Internet of Things designs to universities to help encourage engineering students to engage with practical embedded-systems projects.
The first institution to use the kit is University College, London, which plans to build a week-long IoT module into some of its courses, as well as providing kits to students to experiment with at home.
Izzat Darwazeh, head of the communications and information sciences group at UCL, said: “We want to let people know that engineering is not a boring subject. It’s fun, and you can make things.”
Mark Miadownik, director of the UCL-based Institute of Engineering, said: “For a long time, the library has been fetishised as the place to go for learning. We think places for making are just as important. Making stuff is as important as the three Rs in education and is a fundamental human urge – you need to give people that facility.”
ARM CTO Mike Muller said the aim of the kit was to use the idea of the IoT to encourage a more diverse range of students to join engineering courses. “There are lots of opportunities as you give things the ability to be connected. The IoT provides an amazing opportunity to inspire engineers of all sorts to start companies.”
Miadownik added that for IoT applications, “you need a kit of parts that’s not difficult to get up to speed with. That’s what I think this kit hopefully will be able to do”.
The kit itself is based around a Cortex-M0 microcontroller and board made by Nordic Semiconductor. Muller claimed: “We are donating the kits and we’ve worked with our semiconductor partners to provide the silicon on the boards. With this kit you can program your device and connect it up to the cloud. At the end you learn how to write an app for an Android phone.
“We hope students will take things a little further,” Muller added, pointing to the need to construct working examples to better understand the engineering problems that face a design concept. “A year ago we built our own smartwatch. We had to hire mechanical engineers for the first time to build this, and it changed the way we had to architect the software.”
Muller said that as the prototype developed it became clear that the interface issues of something worn on the wrist would have ramifications for the software that handles features such as power management.
In initial work with the kits, UCL students were able to get designs up and running in a matter of days. Some projects have involved coupling the kit board to a Polulu robot module and using the computing performance of the 32-bit microcontroller to take in visual sensor inputs to guide the robots around a track marked with black tape.