A remote lab (or online lab) enables actors (such as students or employees) to carry out experiments over the Internet, which are normally performed in presence studies at educational laboratories. Compared to a normal laboratory there is need of additional equipment for preparing traditional labs for online access.
Conventional lab” and “Complex remote laboratory” are illustrating these necessary changes.
In a conventional laboratory environment, the actor is feasible to use the equipment by his own hands and he gets direct feedback for his actions. When pressing a button he will see without detention in what the “reaction” of the lab is. In an remote (online enabled) lab, the actor is connected by a personal computer to the Internet. He is performing actions by utilizing specific software or just by accessing a web application running in any common web browser. His actions are transmitted to a receiver system (in most cases a computer system) with a public IP address. Naturally this receiver system is preceded by a user/laboratory management system, dealing with access rights and booking issues. This case is not illustrated here. The receiver system is directly connected to the laboratory equipment, enabling to perform standard actions to the hardware, which are common for that specific kind of experiment.
As the receiver system is not able to act like a human being, actions like “button pressing” or “switching” are replaced by ones a machine can perform by electrical signals. Thus the laboratory will work like as a human is directly using it. Depending on the kind of hardware in the lab these kinds of modifications may vary in complexity. The feedback of the system is also sent through the receiver system, where feedback may be data/measurement, as well as visual or audio-visual feedback. This information is sent back to the actors’ computer, where they are decoded and presented to the user.
In a common lab course, mostly during practical work sessions, as defined in the engineering curriculum, learners are encouraged to perform their exercises at a specific time, usually in a group of students, during opening hours of their institution. There is often no consideration for disabled learners of for individual time constraints of the participants. Another problem is the availability of sufficient lab places. Especially poor institutions may not offer costly experiments. Due the nature of remote labs there is the possibility of sharing equipment not only to own students at the institutions, but also between institutions themselves.
Aims of research
The aim of our research in remote labs is to eliminate the limitations in interaction in a remote lab (like “button pressing”, “switching” or “manipulation something with hands”) by making utilization of technologies beyond the state-of-the-art.