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Electronics: sensing, logic and actuation

Electronics underpins almost every facet of the modern world, controlling the smallest of surgical instruments to the largest of passenger planes, with imminent new developments such as autonomous cars and collaborative robots. You’ll gain industrially relevant skills in the core aspects of electronics: sensing gives detailed awareness of the world, logic makes smart decisions and actuation produces tangible outputs. The theory you’ll learn is applicable industry wide, enhanced by regular sessions in our remote laboratory where you’ll personally have full real-time control over state-of-the-art electronics equipment, from your own computer.

What you will study

This module will provide you with an introduction to the broad spectrum of activities that comprise electronic engineering, and the analytical methods needed to support it. It is designed to give continuity into Electronics: signal processing, control and communications (T312). The combined modules will have a strong emphasis on the development of the practical knowledge and skills required by industry.

It’s presented in five blocks. The first block introduces the module and shows how sensors, logic and actuation are combined to make working systems. The context of the overall module is the sensing–logic–actuation cycle, in which electronic systems (i) collect information about their environment through sensors responding to light, sound and other physical phenomena, (ii) use logic and signal processing to reason about the sensor data in the context of what they already know, in order to plan and decide what to do next, and (iii) control their motors and actuators such as wheels, legs, arms, and grippers to move and operate successfully within their environment. The theory will be illustrated by many electronic systems, from the devices that are everywhere in our homes and everyday lives to state-of-the-art systems across a range of application areas.

Block 1: introduction  This block introduces and motivates the module, explaining the roles of sensing, logic and actuation in electronics engineering. Building on the basic theory of electricity, you’ll learn about common electronic devices and how they work together to make circuits with standard functionality. You’ll learn how to read and draw schematic diagrams for electronic systems. This is supported by the industry-standard Multisim Live circuit design and simulation software. You’ll be introduced to the OpenEngineering Laboratory, and conduct an experiment on a driven pendulum that produces sine wave signals similar to those you’ll see in electrical and electronic systems.

Block 2: Sensing – You’ll learn about sensors, signals and signal processing. You’ll learn how a variety of sensors work, including light-dependent resistors, photodiodes, thermistors, pressure sensors, and ranging devices, and how to design robust sensor circuits using operational amplifiers (op-amps). The theory of Fourier analysis is developed and used as the basis of signal processing, including sampling and filtering. You’ll use your computer to investigate various aspects of signal processing and filtering out noise.  Multisim Live and OpenEngineering Laboratory experiments will give you experience of sensor circuit design and signal processing using industry-standard interfaces controlling real devices.  The OpenEngineering Laboratory experiments include photodiodes and strain gauges.

Block 3: Logic – This block covers the basics of Boolean logic and the use of binary numbers and sequential logic in computing devices and controlling systems. You’ll learn about microcontrollers and microprocessors, including how they can be programmed to read sensors and control actuators. In your OpenEngineering Laboratory experiments, you’ll use a specially designed digital logic tutor board, with real digital logic gates, that can be rewired instantly from your computer.

Block 4: Actuation – This block covers actuators and the circuits that drive them. You’ll learn about transistors and semiconductors; electromagnetics; linear actuators; DC motors and stepper motors; cooling in electronics; and control. You’ll use the OpenEngineering Laboratory and Multisim Live extensively. The OpenEngineering Laboratory exercises will involve controlling a variety of motors and measuring their properties.

Block 5: Integration – This block uses the case study of a quadcopter drone to illustrate the process of designing electronic and mechanical systems. You'll learn that the integration process iterates between the design of the whole system and the design of its interacting subsystem. The OpenEngineering Laboratory exercise experiments with ranging devices.

You will learn

The knowledge and skills developed in this module are applicable in various engineering roles. At the end of it you’ll be able to:

  • describe electronic systems in terms of the sensing–logic–actuation cycle;
  • search for electronic components and data sheets on the internet and reference them correctly;
  • draw standard electronics schematics and diagrams;
  • select sensors and design robust sensor circuits;
  • work with signals, including sampling and filtering;
  • work with logical expressions and sequential processing, including writing simple programs;
  • work with logical circuits using the OpenEngineering Laboratory;
  • select appropriate motors and actuators for designing electronics systems;
  • select actuator systems and design or specify appropriate electronic control.

Entry requirements

To study Electronics: sensing, logic and actuation, we recommend you have one of the following:

  • passes in Engineering: origins, methods, context (T192) and Engineering: framework, analysis, products (T193); and Engineering: maths, modelling, applications (T194)
  • a pass in Engineering the future (T174) or its predecessor T173; plus a pass in Essential mathematics 1 (MST124) or its predecessor MST121
  • engineering knowledge equivalent to OU level 1 and mathematics knowledge to A-Level or above.

Check you're ready with our self-assessed quiz.

If you’re still not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

What's included

You'll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • access to third-party software and the OpenEngineering laboratory
  • assessment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access
  • access to student and tutor group forums.

You'll also be provided with five printed module books and printed activity booklets for the practical work.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Corporate firewalls often block the video and data connections to the OpenEngineering Laboratory; therefore, we recommend a standard ISP connection. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Recent versions of the following browsers are most suitable for carrying out web-based activities:

  • Chrome
  • Firefox

Internet Explorer, Edge, Safari, and iOS browsers currently don’t support all the web standards used by the OpenEngineering Laboratory.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part. If you want to participate, you’ll likely need a headset with a microphone.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

The TMAs and EMA assess the module material as well as practical OpenEngineering lab activities.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Block quizzes help you prepare for the three TMAs and EMA.  The quizzes are formative which means that they don’t count towards the final mark. Their purpose is to enable you to test for yourself how well you have understood what is being taught, and you can try the questions any number of times without penalty.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying T212 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Electronics: sensing, logic and actuation (T212) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2020.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2024.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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