With over a year now of closed schools and telework, it’s been difficult for college students to get meaningful learning experiences. With very few exceptions (such as healthcare practitioners), almost all training and education is online. In STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), this is especially problematic in that students are not getting the hands-on experience of real project-based learning.
OSML has developed a hybrid solution to address that problem. The OSML Virtual Lab opened today with 27 physics students from California State University - San Marcos (CSUSM) . The class is grouped into six teams that will be conducting a four-week engineering design challenge. During the pandemic, OSML has built out a significant suite of technical and collaborative online tools that can be adapted to a varity of engineering challenges that blend remote and in-person work activities. In addition to our on-site IoT lab, the OSML Virtual Lab includes self-hosted tools such as GitLab, JupyterHub, Grafana, OpenProject, Bastliion and Nextcloud. Development of additional tools is underway for Rancher, for a Kubernetes-based DevOps environment, and Matrix/Element, for a secure collaboration environment.
This is the fourth year that OSML and CSUSM have partnered to provide a team-based engineering challenge experience for their senior physics classes. Past projects have included challenges such as an environmental sensor package in a high altitude balloon that reached near space - at an altitude of 82,000 feet - and was successfully recovered by the team south of the Salton Sea in southern California. Other projects with CSUSM students have included ground-based Internet of Things (IoT) environmental sensor grids, and transactive energy technologies that included renewable energy and blockchain accounting. The transactive energy engineering challenge led to the formation of a startup company, Simpl Energy, based on some of the concepts developed during the project.
For this year’s design challenges, the student teams will be designing, implementing and operating a set of IoT environmental sensor gateways - all remotely. The IoT gateways are Linux-based single board computers (Raspberry Pi with Unbuntu server as the operating system), and include sensors to measure temperature, humidity, light level and sound level at various points with OSML. Each student has admin-level access to one of the IoT gateways through Bastillion, our secure proxy that gives them a terminal window through a web browser from any location. Code will be developed in Python to collect data from the sensors on each IoT gateway, and then the data will be imported into our hosted scientific notebook application, Jupyter Hub, for data analytics, analysis and presentation of results.
This year’s engineering challenge is also a first in a macro perspective for industry. Our overaching goal is to demonstrate the ability to lead a large distributed team through a real-world engineering challenge that requires a high level of collaboration. During the pandemic, industry was required to greatly realign its work processes to accommodate a remote and physically isolated workforce in many cases. New tools and processes are required to do this effectively - much more than the typical video conferencing and VPN connections. Working with large teams over a geographically dispersed environment is nothing new for Dan Hendricks, founder and President of OSML. During his many years as an officer in the U.S. Navy, he had experience working in carrier battle groups that operated around the world in dispersed environments that covered hundreds of thousands of square miles.
This will be an interesting experiment in develop both technical and team skills in a distributed environment. Much more that “distance learning”, the OSML engineering challenges are centered around a real-world problem and result in innovative solutions. The OSML Virtual lab offering may be expanded to other groups. OSML is currently in discussions with university student organizations in California, Washington and Nevada. This could also be used by industry to enhance the team skills of their current workforce as we all learn how to operate more effectively in a distributed environment..
For more information, visit the OSML web site at https://www.osml.us/ or email email@example.com.