A new course to teach microcontrollers and embedded networking to biosystems and agricultural engineers

Matthew J. Darr, Timothy S. Stombaugh, Scott A. Shearer, Richard S. Gates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


One of the fundamental skills required of biosystems and agricultural engineers is an ability to interact with systems that affect the production and processing of biological materials. This involves monitoring and controlling parameters within complex biological systems. Also, there is often a need to link multiple systems over a network to allow control and feedback data to be shared at several points. These monitoring systems and more sophisticated embedded networks are enhancing the ability of biosystems and agricultural engineers to solve problems by facilitating real-time data collection and enabling control actions. The use of microcontrollers in industry applications is growing steadily each year. Currently, worldwide microcontroller unit sales are increasing at a rate of 13% to 17% annually. This growth is reflected in biosystems and agricultural engineering by an increased use of microcontrollers in all aspects of the profession. Food and bioprocessing groups are utilizing microcontroller resources to improve the accuracy and efficiency of process control machines. Microcontrollers are also increasingly used for environmental control, where they have been implemented into distributed control systems. Applications are increasing in all areas of specialization where cost effective and precise control is required. In order to fulfill the departmental mission to provide students with the highest quality and most diverse learning experience possible, the University of Kentucky Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering has developed a course to introduce the basic operation and industrial use of microcontrollers and embedded network systems. The fundamental goals of the course were to teach students the basic operating principles of microcontrollers and communication protocols, and to introduce practical microcontroller uses in industry. Laboratory assignments were tailored toward applications in biosystems and agricultural engineering including analog data acquisition, environmental monitoring, and process control. Principle concepts of motor and valve control were also discussed as they relate to real-world control applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)716-722
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Engineering Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2007


  • Controller area networks
  • Data acquisition
  • Embedded systems
  • Instrumentation
  • Microcontroller

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Engineering (all)


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