The REAL Concept

The Origin Story

Electrical Engineering students taking engineering electrodynamics at the undergraduate level often come away with the impression that the topic is abstract, mathematical, and will be of little practical use to them. Even after taking two semesters of the subject, students are often not able to see how what they have learned will help them design interesting products or systems. In contrast, after taking one or two semesters of subjects such as analog circuits, digital circuits, or control systems, a student can design and build a wide variety of interesting circuits and systems using widely available components.

One type of electromagnetic component that is practical for students to design and build is an antenna. Antennas can be simulated and analyzed using relatively inexpensive design software, and can be made using techniques such as elements printed on circuit boards, and metal and dielectric parts that can be cut and assembled with hand tools.

Many Electrical Engineering programs already offer courses on antennas, and these courses are increasing in importance because of the growth in the wireless industry. These courses predominantly use software for antenna design and analysis, with few offering project courses to actually build and test antennas. A primary reason for not building antennas as part of a course is that some type of antenna range is needed to measure the radiation pattern of an antenna. Only a relatively small number of universities have such a facility, and fewer still have a facility that is available for undergraduate education. In some instances, creative faculty have set up simple systems consisting of a turntable, microwave sources, and detectors in a regular laboratory to illustrate the basic concepts of antenna patterns, but these are not available in all programs and are not very precise.

The Remote Educational Antenna Laboratory (REAL) originated as a collaborative project between Carnegie Mellon University and San Diego State University, and was established to encourage the use of antenna construction projects in undergraduate education. In 2011, the primary remote antenna laboratory was relocated to North Carolina State University.

Goals of the Project

Establish an remotely-operated antenna test facility

Implemented at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and subsequently relocated to NC State University

Develop a starter kit for students to create their own test antennas

Completed at San Diego State University, the easy-to-use, inexpensive "Antenna Construction Starter Kit" containing basic supplies and procedures

Evaluate the educational effectiveness of the remote laboratory

We solicit collaboration and evaluation with faculty interested in using the REAL facility in their courses to help assess the effectiveness of the concept



For papers relating to the Wireless Network Emulator, see


The following labs were published in HP Educator's Corner CD, Version 2.0, June, 1998. These are the labs used in 18-439 Advanced Laboratory Technique sat CMU during the Fall 95 and Fall 96 semesters. Labs 1-6 familiarize students with techniques and instrumentation, and Labs 7 and 8 are to be completed remotely.

  1. HP VEE Virtual Lab 1: Introduction to Instrumentation
  2. HP VEE Virtual Lab 2: HP VEE and Timbuktu
  3. HP VEE Virtual Lab 3: Direct I/O Communication
  4. HP VEE Virtual Lab 4: Handling and Displaying Data
  5. HP VEE Virtual Lab 5: Capture that Waveform!
  6. HP VEE Virtual Lab 6: Magnitudes, Phases, Everywhere!
  7. HP VEE Virtual Lab 7: Martian Rescue
  8. HP VEE Virtual Lab 8: The Black Box

A Brief History of Remote Labs at CMU and NC State

Activity at CMU
Early 1990's

White paper by Pradeep Khosla proposed a "Virtual Lab" based on PC boards that could be checked out by students that would enable generation and measurement of signals. The boards could be used in their dorm rooms or elsewhere.


"Virtual Lab" concept evolved into "Remote Laboratory" in which students could remotely access and use instrumentation in the undergraduate laboratories. A functioning remote lab was demonstrated for a visiting ABET committee in the Fall '94 semester.


The experimental course, 18-439 Special Topics in ECE: "Advanced ECE Laboratory Techniques: Virtual Laboratory," was taught using the new remote laboratory capability. This is believed to have been one of the first undergraduate courses based on remote laboratory concepts.

Carnegie Mellon's Virtual Lab was recognized as a Finalist for the 1995 Smithsonian Computerworld Leadership Award in the Education and Academia Organization Category, after being nominated for the award by Hewlett-Packard. The recognition ceremony took place on June 3, 1996.


Students used remote access to a CV analysis instrument for testing fabricated devices in the ECE Advanced Semiconductors Course.


The ECE Remote lab was used for Demos and student access in the course, 18-100 Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering, offered to advanced high school students during the summer of 1999, and to CMU Freshmen during the Spring 2000 semester.


The Remote Educational Antenna Laboratory (REAL) became operational and was used for student projects in the capstone design course, 18-513 Antenna Design for Wireless Communications during the Fall 2006 Semester.


First "transcontinental" antenna measurements using the REAL facility by collaborators at San Diego State University. Ten antenna designs developed for use in "Antenna Starter Kits" were characterized remotely.

Wireless Network Emulator became available for remote users, and was used for assignments and projects by students at ETH, Zurich.


REAL facility demonstrated at the 2008 IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium

REAL facility became available for beta testing by interested universities.

Antenna Starter Kits and Lab Tutorials became available for use by interested universities.

Activity at NC State

Primary REAL facility relocated to North Carolina State University

Links to Other Remote Lab Sites

Resource Center for Engineering Laboratories on the Web
University of Tennessee Chattanooga

Remote Laboratory
University of Technology, Sydney