How to begin practice control?

Dear Friends, I am a graduate student majoring in automatic control. But very shamefully, after studying many control algorithms, I have so poor
idea on how to implement control schemes in real world.
I feel that I can't wait any more. I have to start practicing. And before I get a job, I'd better do some experiments which are not complicated and not expensive.
So I am wondering whether there are some sample equipments - hardware and software - for beginners to start with like PLC, DSP, or any kind of embedded/ real time system as well as tutorials and references.
Very very thankful for any relevant information.
All the best, Haoyu
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snipped-for-privacy@myrealbox.com "Haoyu Zhang" writes:

This may seem strange but why not enter competitive events like "micro-mouse" or "auto-bot wars". You are then pitting your skills against others and you will learn quite a lot from building and running your devices.
I think there are plenty of kit-of-bits type solutions for the micro-mouse machines (includes wheels, encoders etc) to which you need to add micro-controller and I/O conditioning before beginning to programme. After all any control job you get will benefit if you have some practical skills and a feel for real world parameters.
How you then apply what you learn is in how well you see the similarities between systems and your analytical skills in classifying the diffeent types of control you gain experience in (there are after all only 28 control system types - from an I/O viewpoint). What changes after that is merely the quantity of I/O and the processing power you have to hand.
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Paul, Haoyu
You aren't a big toe type when you hit a pool, are you? Talk about jumping in with both feet. I like that spirit. I have to agree that the only way to practice controls are to do it. The robot wars suggestion will definitely get you a lot of practice and experience in a hurry.
What kind of control system are you interested in working on? Motion controls require one set of worries, flow controls quite another. One major thing to do is to look around at every day items to see where control systems are already used, and then to supplant those with one of your advanced systems. Perhaps it will work better, perhaps not. You might just find a better way to do things. I would avoid playing with the cruise control or internal controls of your automobile for the time being, but a lot of other things are fair game.
Buying a simple a/d and d/a board, a relay, a few thermocouples, and perhaps a bit of wire will let you write a thermostat control on your computer for your house. That isn't much of a control system, but it has the advantages of being relatively easy but quite extensible, as you can figure out how to model the thermal properties of the house.
Try controlling a bank of lamps to maintain an even amount of light on a table throughout the year. Dim them when the sun is bright enough to contribute. Extra points for maintaining a particular color of light on the table by controlling several colored lights.
Turn on house lights in response to your location.
Control the temperature of water from a tap. This may be a bit more expensive, as control valves aren't always cheap.
Toys are oddly enough a great place to start. Indeed, there are a number of toys which were the first commercial application of some chips and technologies. Check into the Lego robotics kit.
Michael

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I don't know how good it is, but with it's multiple analog and digital I/O's, USB port and $119 price a great learning investment.
http://www.labjack.com/labjack_u12.html

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Try the game "tankspill" at
http://www.che.utexas.edu/cache/tankspill.html
Please report back on what you think of it.
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Get a job now. Don't delay. You have reached the point where it is time for other people to start paying for your education. Side trips into hobbyland are procrastination.
Walter.

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You have a point, Walter, but I'm surprised you would underestimate the importance of practical experience. While Haoyu shouldn't use this as an excuse to delay the job search, the lack of practical experience so far will be an issue. How would you feel about hiring a new graduate who simply floated through his/her classes by passing exams? Who never took the time to try to build a tangible control device? Who expects the employer to spend a year training him/her to be productive? Who can solve any textbook problem but can't engineer his/her way out of a paper bag?
How do you expect Haoyu to respond to the question, "So what control projects have you done?" Or "Why should we hire you?" Would "I haven't done any control projects, but I can pick up the practical know-how by osmosis even though I have made zero progress in doing so" suffice? If I were a hiring manager, I would NOT hire Haoyu. In fact, I would probably exclaim in disgust, "What kind of engineer are you? You spent thousands of dollars and hours studying control theory, but you couldn't spare a few more to attempt the simplest projects!"
And if Haoyu does get a job, how long will it take for him/her to be productive? The ideal new hire is someone who can get the job done on Day One blindfolded. Without practical experience, it will be a big, long uphill battle for Haoyu to become reasonably productive or even to know what's going on.
Jason Hsu, AG4DG usenet AAAAAATTTTTT jasonhsu.com
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jason snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com "Jason Hsu" writes:

Which is why I suggested the Micromouse and/or Robot Wars competitions in the first place. Micromouse would probably be the better project of the two as you have to programme the controller to solve the maze in as rapidly as possible as well as move the mouse according to the solution. A competition is still run annually in the UK but I suspect that there are similar competitions run in other countries too. The UK event gets quite a bit if International participation.

Even in an ideal world I would not expect any new hire to be able to be on top performance on day 1. I'd give him at least until the end of day two. I mean, he has to find the coffee machine, the loos and where lunch/pizza's might be obtained. ;>
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time
I don't at all underestimate the value of practrical experience. On the contrary, I suggest Haoyu get some as soon as possible. I'm afraid there is no easy answer to the dilemna of no experience, no job; no job no experience. Unfortunately there is no way to get industrial experience except in industry. No one "...simply floated through his/her classes by passing exams." But I would very much be interested in his history of summer jobs.

If a recent graduate, prospective employee told me about a significant home project I would have to think carefully. Is he showing initative or is he trying to evade the real world? Hopefully a chat would reveal this. If he said nothing I would draw no conclusions at all.

I'm afraid that nothing he could do in his own time would have any direct bearing on how long it took for him to be productive. He would be given small, closely supervised assignments. The quality of work, especially in small things, would reveal how much freedom would be given in the next assignment.
Walter.
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home
he
This comment has me a bit worried. Could you expand on it?
Nate
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home
he
he
This is a toughie. I guess what I mean is that if I am interviewing a person for a job and he spent the whole time talking about his hobby I would start to conclude that his job would have a lower priority. The fact that it is a technical hobby would help a bit, but not much. If the person is a recent graduate I would listen carefully to see if this enthusiasm would transfer to his work.
I get the impression that people who have been in the workforce for a while and who still are very enthusiastic about technical hobbies are so because they do not find their work interesting enough. Their enthusiasm and ability is being diverted.
Could be I'm wrong.
Walter.
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Now we're getting somewhere. Now I see what you're concerned about. What would separate the candidate with the technical hobby that's a plus from the candidate with the technical hobby that's a minus?

Isn't there also the possibility that the work and the hobby have synergies? And why wouldn't an engineer who loves his/her work still be enthusiastic about a technical hobby?
You have some interesting points of view that seem to conflict what I have been learning. I would like to resolve some paradoxes.
Some more questions for you, Walter (and anyone else): 1. How did you become more productive than your peers who graduated with you? People don't become productive engineers by accident. 2. How did you become interested in the career you have now? 3. Describe for me the ideal new hire. 4. Describe for me the ideal new graduate. Since the new graduate won't have much direct experience (and nobody was born with such experience), this definition will be somewhat different from that in #3. If you have had experience recruiting new graduates, what types of things will convince you that a given candidate is in the top .1% (or 1% of 5%) that makes you say, "I MUST hire this person before the competition does"? 5. What does it take for a new engineer to become competent? No productive engineer was born that way, and nobody has ever become competent by accident or through a mysterious flash of divine inspiration. If your answer includes past co-ops and internships, then what is the ideal candidate for these positions? 6. Whose job is it to make an engineer more competent? The school? The employer? My answer is that it is the engineer's job. As I see it, the school and the employers keep passing the buck. The school will say that its job is to teach the basic fundamentals and that it's the employer's job to train people. The employer will say it's the school's job to graduate more productive engineers. The conclusion I draw is that the training is the engineer's job. Contests, projects, co-ops, internships, etc. are ways for students to gain the practical experience they need. Those who get practical experience but don't like it will know that they should think about changing fields right away, not several years into an unproductive career.
Jason Hsu, AG4DG usenet AAAAATTTTT jasonhsu.com
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Dear Friends, I am very thankful for your kind advices. I am trying to get a job first. In the mean time, I am also looking for universities with good real-time/embedded system program. As an international student at USA, it is really hard to get a job nowadays.
All the best, Haoyu
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I started in industry right after getting my degree with no real experience. I think that most people do. My first employer did train me; it was many months before my productivity as an engineer began was worth what I was being paid. Such is typical in engineering and many other fields.
That said, any work at home on a "hobby" type project, as long as it does not take time away from the job search, is worth while. It is certainly better than spending the evening at rock concerts or such. But a young graduates first goal should be to get the entry level job with an employer who knows he is hiring a new graduate and is willing to train.
John
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This may be beneath you but i figured i'd throw it out.
Have you tried a class at a local technical college? I'm a currently a electromechanical student and we are learning Servo's, synchro's and plc's. The level I'm at is mostly hands on with very little math involved.
Nate
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