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Creating a virtual laboratory for distance learning courses has become recently so important recently for en-gineering education. In this paper, we provide a full description for a remote access technique used in a wireless and mobile communication laboratory. Hence, the student will be able to perform experiments online and controlling and watching the devices by accessing a camera already built in the laboratory. Signal generator, spectrum analyzer and field-fox devices are used in the virtual laboratory.
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Education 2012 2(1), 19-24
DOI: 10.5923/j.edu.20120201.04
Virtual Wireless and Mobile Communication Laboratory
Ahmad Nassar, Motaz Mohammed, Ali Elrashidi
*
, Khaled Elleithy
Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Bridgeport, CT 06604, USA
Abstract Creating a virtual laboratory for distance learning courses has become recently so important recently for en-
gineering education. In this paper, we provide a full description for a remote access technique used in a wireless and mobile
communication laboratory. Hence, the student will be able to perform experiments online and controlling and watching the
devices by accessing a camera already built in the laboratory. Signal generator, spectrum analyzer and field-fox devices are
used in the virtual laboratory.
Keywords Virtual Laboratory, Remote Access, Distances Learning, Signal Generator, Spectrum Analyzer, Field-Fox
Device
1. Introduction
Studying a course via the internet means that a student can
interact with their teacher via email and video conferences.
This educational method requires a high degree of maturity
on the student behalf, therefore it is more suitable for
graduate students and senior undergraduates who are taking
courses that require practical laboratory practices[1].
With the beginning of the internet for more than two
decades ago, distance education has been introduced and
expanded through universities and schools. One of the most
important factors of distance education was the development
of “distance experimentation”. This kind of education fo-
cuses mainly on practical aspects of instructional systems, to
give students theory and practices and also to help teachers
and professors who are not always physically on site. There
are a lot of difficulties in this area and there has not been so
much work done in this kind of educational field until lately.
Remote access experimenting has become so important
recently for engineering education because it made it easier
to provide more lab hours and also make efficient use of
equipments and providing convenience for offsite stu-
dents[2].
Since 1994, Engineers and others have established the
possibility of making distance experimentation easy and
accessible by student for their practical experiments and
using the internet as a way to learn. One of the earliest ex-
periments and approaches to distance experimenting was
robot control and some circuit fundamental experiments[3].
As universities expand distance education programs, they
offer educational opportunities in different market sectors
* Corresponding author:
alirashedy@gmail.com (Ali Elrashidi)
Published online at http://journal.sapub.org/edu
Copyright © 2012 Scientific & Academic Publishing. All Rights Reserved
than they usually operate. Universities may use this new
technology to attract students in nontraditional markets in
which could result in competition or cooperation between
universities. Universities may also share access to one
internet based access of this new technology.
For distance experiment, it is really important to provide
very high quality lab experience to the offsite students. Early
remote access lab implementations were proofs of the prac-
ticability of this new Technology which has absorbed much
of the cost of providing lab services to a limited set of stu-
dents.
Many public universities have faced budget cuts over the
past few years, the support needed for computing systems
and labs was usually provided by graduate teaching assis-
tants, who change from one semester to another. decisions
must be made on how this new technology should be deliv-
ered according to who should provide the laboratory ser-
vices , what kind of support , what are the available lab hours
needed, and finally what kind of infrastructure is required for
distance experimenting[4].
2. Related Work
One of the newest and increasingly popular technologies
is remote lab access. With the world wide spread of the
Internet and multiple applications that come with it, remote
access technology has become a high demand technology[5].
An electronic remote access FPGA laboratory was de-
veloped by Hashemian and Riddley[5]. This system was
intended for the use of the FPGA and Xilinx's Spartan-3E
Starter Kit that are used in digital logic design laboratory.
The remote desktop application provided by windows XP is
used to connect a user with the FPGA board, LabView, and
hardware such as an integrated webcam, GPIO and data
acquisition. GPIO and the integrated webcam then connect
to the switches, LEDs, push buttons and the rest of the
20 Ahmad Nassar et al.: Virtual Wireless and Mobile Communication Laboratory
hardware on the FPGA board itself. A benefit of using this
methodology is the inexpensive setup cost that comes with
the FPGA Spartan-3E Starter kit. However, using windows
XP remote desktop kit slows down the system.
NetLab design started in the University of South Australia
and was developed in order to overcome the most common
problems regarding remote access laboratory. The architec-
ture of NetLab is similar to previous work, but in addition it
includes a selection of materials and equipment incorporated
in the design and it allows collaboration between multiple
users. The end result of the Netlab research was that standard
working labs outperform remote access labs.
To evaluate the proficiency of conventional labs simulated
labs, and remote log in labs, Corter et.al.[6] proposed a
model to compare the results of each[7]. The main focus of
the experiments was the motion and activity of apparatus
such as cameras, microphones, connection and gears. Six
experiments were executed; three of them were hands-on in
person and the other three were remote lab access. The re-
sults that were closely looked at by the conductors were
preferences and overall satisfaction.
Learning ability and their style of thinking were the main
characteristics related to students preferred remote access
laboratories[7]. The final results showed that the least pref-
erable criteria by students included team work, pre lab ex-
periments, final reports and not surprisingly the attendance
of the lab. The degree of how much a student learned from
the experiments was tested by professors on the midterms
and final exams.
Remote laboratory access was also used for an optical
circuit class[8]. The purpose was to educate the students
about the basics and concepts before moving on to pre
laboratory work[9]. Pre-laboratories had on-line material
that consists of an introduction video, results, and the step by
step laboratory procedures. The learning outcome was
measured and the teaching methods were assessed. Students
were required to connect to a LabView web Server using a
specific client. Afterwards, they were required to perform
three experiments.
The characterization of optical source circuits, the at-
tenuation of optical fiber links and connectors, and practical
skills obtained by students from performing remote labs. The
success was measured based upon how successful each
student was in conducting these three experiments. After-
wards, a student survey was taken to gauge their opinion.
The ILab technology was first developed at the Massa-
chusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)[10]. A remote access
biology laboratory was prepared by Elawady et.al. using the
ILab. The benefits of performing a general biology lab re-
motely according to Elawady et.al. were that resources and
costs are shared, which leads to a more efficient and pro-
ductive work environment. The work by Elawady et.al.
inspired other researches to start looking into remote access
laboratory in their fields and acknowledging some of the
benefits that come along with it.
One field that is being looked into is FPGA because the
boards themselves can be manipulated and are flexible.
There is not that much work out there that involves remote
accessing the FPGA board, however, more research is being
carried out and the interest is growing[11].
3. Proposed Laboratory Overview
In Figure 1, the overall proposed laboratory is illustrated.
The student will be able to access the laboratory server via
Internet and by using username and password assigned by a
laboratory monitor student can access the laboratory de-
vices. By using an integrated camera in the lab, the student
will be able to check any experiment connections or elec-
tronic circuit connections.
Signal generator and spectrum analyzer are used to gen-
erate and analyze signals for most of the experiment in the
designed laboratory. Field-fox device is used as either net-
work analyzer mode or signal generator mode. Field-fox is
a very efficient device in most of experiments in the labo-
ratory.
A camera is connected to a personal computer very close
to the devices and mainly controlled by a laboratory moni-
tor person. A student is able to access the camera via inter-
net connection to watch the devices setup in the laboratory.
A lab monitor will be responsible for giving a username
and password to each student registered in course, do the
setup for experiment each week and set a time slot for each
student, so the student can access the devices in his/her own
time slot during the week.
Figure 1. Overall system overview for accessing the virtual laboratory
Any experiment can be accessed by only one student at a
time, and the student can chat immediately with the labora-
tory monitor if the student has any questions or concerns.
4. Remote Access to the X-Series Signal
Analyzer and the MXG Signal
Generator
There are two instruments that the virtual laboratory can
use remotely logged into; the X-Series signal analyzer and
Education 2012; 2(1): 19-24 21
the MXG signal generator. For the X-series signal analyzer,
the remote login in can be achieved via the local area net-
work (LAN) or using an embedded web server. On the other
hand, for the MXG generator, remote login can only take
place through a web-enabled page because it is not running
on any operating system.
4.1. X-Series Signal Analyzer
LAN configuration
The initial step is to set up the instrument and prepare it to
remotely connect to a computer. An administrator level
access to the instrument is required. The following steps are
executed:
1. First, go to the control panel on the instrument and
double click on system.
2. Next, click on the remote tab and ignore the warn-
ing message that pops up.
3. Then check the box to allow users to remotely use
this computer and click the select remote users and then
add.
4. Follow the on-screen instructions and now the Sig-
nal analyzer can be accessed.
Now that the instrument is set up, the next step is to set up
the remote host computer. First, the remote desktop connec-
tivity software is needed. If windows XP or any later oper-
ating system versions are being used, it automatically comes
installed with it. If using an earlier windows version, the
software must be installed from a CD. The next step is to get
the instrument’s name by pressing system, show, system on
the front panel and the name will appear.
To start the remote desktop session, from the remote
computer, go to start, all programs, accessories, communi-
cation, remote desktop connection and then enter the name of
the instrument you have obtained and click connect. Enter
the login and password and click ok which will bring up the
remote desktop connection screen. Ensure that the login
name, password, and computer name are all correct and then
under local resources, check the disk drives and printer boxes
to enable transfer between the instrument and the computer,
and click connect. This will make the remote desktop con-
nection and as Figure 2 display.
a) Internet connection
Using an embedded Web server is valuable when you
cannot log onto the instrument’s account. You can wirelessly
connect to the instrument without needing to log the current
user off. Also, this function only works with Internet ex-
plorer. The first step is to enter the URL consisting of the
hostname or IP address, which will take the user to the
welcome page. On the welcome page, there are tabs that
enable the user to change any configuration on information
about the instrument, and it is easy to change or modify them.
Next, click control and enter the password (which is “Agilent”
by default). This will bring up instrument’s control web page,
and then by clicking display front panel keys, a virtual
keyboard will appear identical to the figures from the desk-
top remote login method.
Figure 2. spectrum analyzer results
If you navigate to utility, virtual front panel, a panel
identical to the instrument’s front panel will appear as shown
in Figures 3 and 4.
Figure 3. first spectrum analyzer virtual panel
Figure 4. second spectrum analyzer virtual panel
4.2. MXG Signal Generator
The only way to remotely access the MXG signal gen-
erator is through a web-enabled client. To do so, enter the
22 Ahmad Nassar et al.: Virtual Wireless and Mobile Communication Laboratory
URL starting with a- then follow by instrument’s model
name and the last five digits of the instrument’s serial
number. This will take you to the homepage. By clicking
signal generator web control from the menu, the virtual front
panel of the MXG generator will appear. If asked for a
password, by default it is set to “Agilent”. The screen shot
below shows the virtual front panel, Figure 5.
Now that the virtual front panel has been accessed, it is
advised to adjust the brightness of it and turn the screen saver
off. Also, the panel can be easily configured to match the
specifications of the used operating system. Generating a
signal can be easily done by manipulating the frequency on
the panel as desired.
Figure 5. signal generator panel
4.3. Field-Fox Analyzer
The Field fox analyzer is a portable instrument which is
used on the field to analyze signals and networks. The field
Fox analyzer instrument has a LAN port but however it
wasn’t designed for to remotely login on the instrument
because of its portability.
However we have been able to figure out how to remote
access to the device using specific software (remote display
control for windows CE) although the LAN port on the de-
vice was designed for and used for sending and receiving
data files only.
The Remote display control for windows CE is simple
software that is basically used for remote accessing mobile
devices and since the field fox analyzer is in the same cate-
gory we were able to remote access the device using that
software[12].
Details on how to remotely access the Field Fox analyzer
is shown next. First we need to set up the instrument and
connect to the Internet via an LAN cable. After that we start
setting up the network for the device by assigning it an IP
address which will be used to login on the device we do that
by going to “system preferences” and then we choose
“LAN”. All network settings will show up so we scroll down
to “apply setting” and then we choose “power up”, the device
will present the LAN settings and give the device an IP ad-
dress.
Once the instrument is set and ready, we use any computer
and launch the “remote display control “application as in
Figure 6.
Figure 6. remote display control for windows CE
Next we click on “file” and then click on “connect”. A pop
window will show up asking to enter the IP address of the
mobile device we wish to connect to as in Figure 7.
Figure 7. accessing the device via its IP address
Once you click “OK”, the application will have full re-
mote access to the device as in Figure 8.
As for controlling the device the mouse of the computer
should be able to control the device and also for some special
keys such as numbers they can be used from the regular
keyboard of the Computer.
Figure 8. field-fox display
5. Accessing an Experiment
A student will be able to access the devices after listening
to a short demo, posted in the virtual laboratory website,
Education 2012; 2(1): 19-24 23
describing the accessing procedures. The laboratory monitor
is responsible for electrical connections for the experiments
in the laboratory.
Measuring the Performance of A Microstrip Antenna
In this experiment, the student is required to measure the
performance of a printed microstrip antenna. Those pa-
rameters are voltage standing wave ratio, return loss and
input impedance for a flat microstrip printed antenna and
the measurements should be done in two parts as shown
bellow.
Figure 9, appears when the student access the camera. In
Figure 9, a flat microstrip antenna connected to the signal
generator and the antenna under test is connected to the
spectrum analyzer. In the first part of the experiment, stu-
dent need to set the frequency of the signal generator to be
2.5 GHz from the signal generator panel and set the ampli-
tude to be -10 dBm.
The measurements will be shown in the spectrum ana-
lyzer screen. It can be controlled using analyzer virtual
panel, as introduced in the previous section. The image of
the spectrum analyzer is shown in Figure 10. A peak at 2.5
GHz is obtained on the spectrum analyzer panel, and the
peak value can be measured by using the marker from the
control panel of the analyzer.
In the second part, the student is asked to measure some
parameters to get the performance of the antenna. Those
parameters are voltage standing wave ratio, return loss and
input impedance of the antenna. Figure 11 shows the
field-fox device that measures the return loss of the con-
nected antenna. The student is able to change the starting
and ending frequencies to clearly show the performance
parameter of the antenna.
Voltage standing wave ratio and input impedance of the
designed antenna can also measured using a field-fox de-
vice.
Students can save the output data in a Matlab format in
their personal computer and analyze the data using Matlab
program. The output data is shown in Figure 12 using Mat-
lab program.
Figure 9. performance measurement of a microstrip printed antenna
Figure 10. screen shut of the spectrum analyzer
Figure 11. voltage standing wave ratio for the designed antenna shown
in field-fox device
Figure 12. return loss as shown in Matlab program
6. Conclusions
In this paper, we introduce the mobile and wireless virtual
laboratory that is designed to be one of the distance learning
courses. A full description of the remote access technique
used for the wireless and mobile communication laboratory
24 Ahmad Nassar et al.: Virtual Wireless and Mobile Communication Laboratory
using a fixed camera in the laboratory is introduced. Ac-
cessing the signal generator, spectrum analyzer and field-fox
devices then controlling these devices using remote access
technique are introduced.
An implementation of a real experiment in the wireless
and mobile communication laboratory for a microstrip an-
tenna is given in this paper. Return loss, voltage standing
wave ratio and input impedance for a microstrip printed
antenna are measured and saved in the personal computer
and processed in Matlab software program.
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[4] shor, “Remote-Access Engineering Educational
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[5] Hashemian and Riddley, "FPGA E-lab, A Technique to
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[6] http://vipmeister.com/dl/netlab/netlab.html
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[8] Nedic, Machotka, and Nafalski, "Remote Laboratories
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2011
[12] http://na.tm.agilent.com/fieldfox/download_files/cerhost60.z
ip
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A Techinique to Remote Access a Laboratory to Design and Test
  • Reza
  • Fpga E-Lab
Reza, " FPGA E-Lab, A Techinique to Remote Access a Laboratory to Design and Test, " IEEE International Conference on Microelectronic System Education, San Diego, ca., 3-4 june, 2007
Re mo te-Acc ess En gin eerin g Ed u catio n al LaboratoriesFPGA E-lab, A Technique to Remote Access a Laboratory to Design and Test
  • Riddley Sh O R Hashemian
sh o r, " Re mo te-Acc ess En gin eerin g Ed u catio n al Laboratories, " at Oregon State University, Corvallis, 2000 [5] Hashemian and Riddley, "FPGA E-lab, A Technique to Remote Access a Laboratory to Design and Test," IEEE International Conference on Microelectronic Systems Education, MSE07, June 2007