LSU Electrical, Computer Engineering Seniors Design Virtual Lab for Remote Experiments

Group photo at Evening of Engineering ExcellenceMay 13, 2024 

BATON ROUGE, LA – As part of their senior capstone project, four LSU Electrical and Computer Engineering seniors designed a virtual lab that will allow LSU Mechanical Engineering students to conduct pipe-flow experiments from a remote location. The project’s sponsor, LSU Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department Chair and Professor Dimitris Nikitopoulos, thought of the project when students were stuck at home during the pandemic. The group’s efforts are funded by Chevron.

“Dr. Nik and Chevron’s goal was for a digital transformation in academics,” said LSU ECE senior Toby Limcango of Covington. “Because of the pandemic, they wanted to be able to have students learn in school or at home.”

Limcango, along with teammates Willie Moore of New Orleans; Preston Guedry of Kenner, La.; and Vy Le of Vietnam are building upon a previously completed senior design project.

“Our goal is to improve what the previous team completed and fully simulate the physical lab experiment for mechanical engineering students,” Moore said. “They can do it virtually, as long as they have the provided headset, the standalone Unity VR app, and an internet connection. Anyone can do it by themselves.”

Students using the app and headset can read the supporting lab manual, open and close solenoid valves to test pressure differentials in water, press buttons to record values, and more. The recorded data goes to their data engine and returns data that the student can then use and analyze.

“It would work the same in a real lab,” Guedry said. “The student can type in their email and send themselves a copy of it. There are also apps you can access. You can open valves, submit the flow rate, and get data back from the data engine, which runs on a 24/7 cloud service called PythonAnywhere.”

The team changed the VR implementation to include continuous movement rather than rapid, quick turns to prevent dizziness and allow the user to move around freely.

“We wanted to take this project to the next level,” Moore said. “We faced some challenges, such as learning a new programming language, game development, and data analytics. It was a lot of research, but once we learned how to analyze that research and implement it, it was fine.”

On the VR side, the team says they composed a lot of C# scripts, adding the respective functions for all of the virtual labs interactables.  

“Each of the things you see me doing [in the virtual lab] is a type of script that went along with it to make that function,” Guedry said. “So, we definitely had a lot to do. Toby and I developed the VR experience, so that was a lot of late nights.”

The technology used in the project could be used in industry and prove beneficial in petroleum, chemical or mechanical engineering.

“This technology could be used in oil and gas or aerospace and defense,” Moore said. “A lot of those engineers must go into the field to be trained and test various functions, which can lead to messing up equipment and even downtime, which can negatively affect a company’s revenue. Being able to interact with these types of systems in VR and not breaking equipment in a physical space can definitely be a benefit.”

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Contact: Libby Haydel
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