A musician strumming a double bass.
Double Bass

Welcome to the Course

Thank you for joining our course; Electrical Engineering: Sensing, powering and controlling.

In the next three weeks you’re going to explore Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering, a way of thinking about applications of some things you already know, and about some things that may be new to you, in a range of technological contexts.

From space and railway technology to… a double bass?

The context for our examples will change week by week. In Weeks 2 and 3 we’ll be looking at powering satellites which are used to monitor space weather and the control of passenger safety systems in underground and metro rail stations. We’ve chosen these examples because space technology and railway technology are growth areas for the employment of graduate Engineers due to substantial investment by governments and private industry in many of the major world economies. They match some of the research areas within the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham, and some of the online tutors for this course will be doctoral students within those research groups.

Our first example though, the study we’ll undertake this week, is more a little piece of fun. We’ll be looking at sensors and transducers and how to make a pick-up to generate electrical signals from a stringed instrument such as a double bass.

What is a “System”?

We formally define a “System” as a “defined volume with known outputs and inputs”.

It might be easier to think of an example. A railway train for example has inputs including fuel or power, water and instructions from the driver and other staff; its outputs include movement, heat and gases from the exhaust. Some are useful outputs, some are not. The relationship between the outputs and inputs can be used to describe the behaviour, or characteristics of the system, and we need to know them in order to integrate our system with other systems.

We can also define a “rail transport system” in which our train is a sub-system. What do you think the inputs and outputs are of the rail transport system?

Nearly all Engineering systems involve people and/or interactions with people at the input and output stages. So we have to consider machine interactions too. Within a system there may be several processes taking place. We might have the generation of data and/or power (or conversion of data and power from one form to another), which then may be transmitted, processed, utilised or stored within the system.

Electrical or electronic engineering?

Thinking about these processes helps us to understand the difference between Electrical and Electronic Engineering. In Electrical Engineering we could be generating electrical power which is transmitted from one location to another; it might be converted from one form to another as in rectification from AC to DC (Alternating Current to Direct Current); we may need to control the power level which is often done through sensing and switching, we may wish to use the power to create movement or to we may wish to store it for future use.

In Electronic Engineering we could be generating electrical data from a mechanical movement, communicating that data through a cable or wireless link, performing some signal processing or amplification and then storing the information or producing sound or a visual display. It is perhaps more obvious where the human user is involved when we consider the Electronic system.

Taking your learning further

These three weeks you are now beginning are a whole introductory course. At any time during these three weeks you can apply for a second course; Electrical Engineering: Apply Your Understanding. In this second course we’ll develop the technical concepts explored here even further. We’ll do this following the content of the Electrical Engineering module that all students take in the first year of our degree courses at the University of Birmingham.

To apply for Electrical Engineering: Apply Your Understanding you’ll have to tell us a few details about yourself – are you studying at the moment, what you’re studying and what you’d like to do next – and give us permission to use your responses to the course in evaluation and any articles we write for other educators about its success. Naturally, any such data we use will be used anonymously. The second course is designed to help current Engineering students prepare for further study.

Get extra benefits, upgrade your course

You can now get extra benefits by upgrading this course, including:

Unlimited access to the course: Go at your own pace with unlimited access to the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn.

Access to tests: Ensure you’ve mastered the material with access to tests on the course.

A Certificate of Achievement: To help you demonstrate your learning we’ll send you a Certificate of Achievement when you become eligible.

Find out more

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This article is from the free online course:

Electrical Engineering: Sensing, Powering and Controlling

University of Birmingham