Tandon Mechatronics Experts Explore Mixed-Reality for Laboratory Education

Even as mobile devices have become increasingly powerful and popular among learners and instructors alike, research involving their comprehensive integration into educational laboratory activities remains largely unexplored. Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Vikram Kapila and Doctoral Researcher Jared Alan Frank have mounted efforts to integrate vision-based measurement and control, augmented reality (AR), and multi-touch interaction on mobile devices to develop Mixed-Reality Learning Environments (MRLE) and study their efficacy. Such environments, they have proven, can enhance interactions with laboratory test-beds for science and engineering education and offer the benefits of hands-on, virtual, and remote labs.

Frank and Kapila posited that students using the MRLE platform would demonstrate improvement in their knowledge of dynamic systems and control concepts and have a positive user experience, and they successfully validated that hypotheses by evaluating two classes of undergraduates using an illustrative platform that incorporated a tablet computer and motor test-bed to teach concepts of dynamic systems and control.

Learners in their study pointed their devices at a laboratory test-bed fitted with visual markers while a mobile application supplied a live view of the experiment, augmented with interactive media to aid in the visualization of feedback control concepts and promote engagement. As the learners manipulated the augmented media, their gestures were mapped to commands that altered the behavior of the test-bed on the fly. Running in the background of the mobile application were algorithms performing vision-based estimation and wireless control of the test-bed. (In this way, the sensing, storage, computation, and communication capabilities of mobile devices were leveraged to relieve the need for laboratory-grade equipment, improving the cost-effectiveness and portability of platforms to conduct hands-on laboratories.)

The results of their study, including an explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of the MRLEs they observed, are discussed with respect to traditional hands-on, virtual, and remote laboratory formats in their recent paper, “Mixed-reality learning environments: Integrating mobile interfaces with laboratory test-beds,” published in Volume 110 of the journal Computers & Education (July 2017).

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