In this highly-competitive scenario, engineering firms prefer the most-skilled fresher candidate so as to reduce the time and resources spent on training. But, how do you provide industry based training in engineering and polytechnic colleges? Folks at iWave System Designs Pvt Ltd have come up with innovative and indigenous educational kits that solve this major issue to an extent.

ALPS allows users to easily integrate and evaluate pre-defined peripherals such as displays, sensors and I/O interfaces
ALPS allows users to easily integrate and evaluate pre-defined peripherals such as displays, sensors and I/O interfaces

Advanced learning platform and solutions (ALPS) is a product developed with the idea of unifying industrial processes for learning about and working on embedded systems. ALPS offers a generic architecture that lets the user easily integrate and evaluate several pre-defined peripherals like displays, sensors, communication and input/output (I/O) interfaces. This means that users get hands-on experience on industry peripherals, hence introducing them to the field of embedded systems, providing a rich visual and interactive experience, and enhancing their industry knowledge.

This interesting platform focuses on bringing about multidisciplinary industrial exposure in the educational segment. The entire kit was completely designed in India by the team led by Kumar Bhagavath, associate director, iWave, and it took a year to develop the final product out of just an idea.

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Why ALPS
Today, most student projects are based on microcontrollers. These designs are targeted to perform limited tasks, where the relationship of input and output are pre-defined. At times, a specific application may require features like image processing, real-time operations and touch-enabled LCD display. This calls for a processing capability that is many times faster, and high-speed memory devices. This is where ALPS comes handy. It is designed around a powerful processor that is scalable for automotive, industrial and consumer markets, and has a guaranteed lifetime of around ten to 15 years. Moreover, the product is integrated with various industry-relevant peripherals. Thus, ALPS provides an easy migration path for students to upgrade from microcontrollers to high-end processors.

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The product
The hardware of this platform consists of two parts: a single-board computer (SBC) and a daughter board. SBC is a Pico-ITX board based on Freescale’s i.MX6 ARM Cortex A9 processor, which is the intellectual property (IP) of iWave. It provides generic features such as processing, memory and power management with industry-relevant peripherals like Ethernet, USB, HDMI, audio, LAN and camera, among others. The daughter board is dedicated to student projects and is plugged to Pico ITX SBC, the specification of which can be changed based on educational needs.

The device also covers interfaces like sensors, motor drives, converters, switches and multiple display options that are typically being used by engineering students in their projects. These two boards along with a 17.8cm (7-inch) graphical LCD with touch screen forms the final product.

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Having two separate boards for a single product gives manufacturers and users more adaptability. SBC is the brain of the device and has a complex architecture that should not be messed with. On the other hand, the daughter board is a simple PCB design that can be re-designed (add new features or remove exiting features) at any point of time, even after purchase. This opens up a lot of scope for further development of the product.

Alps runs on Linux/Android operating systems. Open source tools, like Eclipse IDE and GNU tools, are used for software development. It is developed using Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE) on Linux platform. The entire software design and source code is available for customisation and users can modify the design to suit more complex projects.

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Covering students’ needs
One of the biggest challenges faced by developers was covering all peripherals that students typically work on for their projects in a small form factor. The team visited close to 80 engineering colleges for demonstration of their previous product and got to closely work with students to understand their project needs. Based on that experience, the team defined the specification for the carrier card and included interfaces commonly used for components like displays, sensors, communication and I/O.

For real-time applications
Even though there are generic embedded learning platforms available in the market, ALPS is the only product integrated with very high-end technologies specifically designed for the educational segment, claim the developers. Though cheaper, Raspberry Pi sometimes fails to provide high-end video processing required for complex embedded projects.

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Another drawback is that Android, a very popular operating system these days, either does not run at all on Raspberry Pi or runs very slow. UDOO is a board that comes at par with ALPS SBC in terms of processing power. But, here the problem is that the interfacing of industry-relevant peripherals can be a difficult task for the student community.

ALPS is a real industrial design and not just a hobby kit. It evidently goes into mass production of real-time projects involving medical electronics, automotive systems, industrial automation, mobile technologies and multimedia.

Taking it to students
ALPS is a finished product and is available in the market. Along with the kit, iWave provides assistance in setting up the advanced embedded system laboratory in those institutions, installing software and drivers, training the faculty and students on how to use the kit and providing technical support for the development of industry-relevant projects. The firm is already associated with more than 50 engineering colleges across the country.

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The cost of this kit ranges from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 25,000 depending on the interfaces required by customers. “We are not thinking about much margin to start with,” says Kumar Bhagavath. The focus is on getting the product familiarised in the educational segment. “Once this is achieved, we will work on our margin, not by increasing the product price but by reducing our manufacturing cost,” he adds.

ALPS kit comes with a number of basic and advanced projects and detailed documentation. These, along with the elaborate user guide, are meant to help students get started with the kit without any complications and gain easy hands-on experience with it.

For more information, visit: www.makerpro.co.in


The author is a dancer, karaoke aficionado, and a technical correspondent at EFY. Find her on Twitter @AnuBomb.

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