Electronics Rapid Prototyping Laboratory

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Electronics Rapid Prototyping Laboratory is located in the Armory at Iowa State University

The Electronics Rapid Prototyping Laboratory is a collaborative effort by the College of Design and College of Engineering at ISU to integrate practical electronics applications and product design. This lab is led by ISU faculty and staff that guide students in Industrial Design, helping them combine open-source electronics hardware and software with practices and methods in product design to realize the products they envision.

Introduction Video Click here to see the introductory video.


The Rapid Prototyping Lab was created by John Pritchard, Mani Mina, and David Ringholz in 2013, and deployed in 2015. The original plan incorporated printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication equipment, a full repertoire of passive components and integrated circuits, wireless communication modules, robotics equipment, advanced metrology equipment, and low and high power sources. It was decided that the first stage of the deployment include easy-to-use modules supplied by Seeedstudio (Grove products) and Arduino (Arduino Uno with Arduino IDE) using visual programming software called ArduBlock.

John Pritchard Mani Mina David Ringholz


In an attempt to connect electrical engineering principles with design principles, it has been challenging to create questions that also result in useful technical skills for non-engineers, specifically industrial designers. Current and previous attempts have presented thoughts, theories, and applications of technology creating many questions and activities. Some of these questions/activities include:

  1. What is voltage and current?
  2. What are batteries and how do we use them?
  3. How do things work (e.g. disposable cameras, solar lamps, satellites, radios, radar, etc.)?
  4. How can things conduct and how do electrons move around in a conductive material?
  5. Why do these things work, what is the physics behind them?
  6. Etc…

These are useful questions in understanding the basic concepts of electricity and how it is applied to real world applications. These highlight methods of inquisition about the technology in our everyday life and help us think in a more meaningful way. However, many of the questions posed by students include:

  1. How can I use these concepts in my design courses?
  2. How can I use these components in my projects?
  3. How do I mount the components into my fabricated design?
  4. How do I find the right sensor/indicator for my project?
  5. How can I create a proof-of-concept to show my project could work if I had the money?
  6. Etc…

Both paradigms are important, however there is currently a disconnect that does not necessarily allow students to answer these questions for themselves. It is the goal of this work to propose a set of hardware kits and downloadable software development environment in order to aide in this endeavor. These kits will be supplemented with documentation that will allow a student to independently solve problems on their own, irrespective of an instructor.


Three levels of tutorials exist - the (1) Beginner with LittleBits, (2) Intermediate with Grove Studio, and (3) Advanced tutorials. The Beginner Tutorials use an Arudino, sensor modules, and Ardublock software. They are denoted "Beginner" because they use plug-and-play modules that interface to an Arduino, controlled by click-and-drag programming. Users do not have to deal with C/C++ coding, nor do they need to worry about circuits. The intermediate tutorials also utilize the Arduino and Ardublock click-and-drag software, however users deal with slightly more complicated plug-and-play modules. The advanced tutorials utilize low-level components, integrated circuits, and breadboards, and the user programs in C/C++ instead of using Ardublock.

Beginner Tutorials - LittleBits

Beginner Tutorials (LittleBits)

Intermediate Tutorials - Grove System

Beginner Tutorials

Advanced Tutorials

Advanced Tutorials

Example Projects

In this section we will have complete projects with instructions.

Automatic Lights (Easy)

Create an automatic light switch that turns a light on when it is dark and turns it off when it is bright.

Garden Indicator (Easy)

Create an indicator for when a garden is out of water complete with a water level meter and "Water Me" LED.