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.
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.
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.
You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).
You’ll also need control over your internet connection settings – corporate firewalls may prevent access to our Open Engineering Lab.
To join in spoken conversations in tutorials we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).
Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.
Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.
It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.