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Last edit: 05-03-17 Graham Wideman


Software and Hardware Projects and Products
Lab and Industrial Instrumentation and Control
Article created: 98-06-01

Some of these projects were done as part of my role in the Sciences Computer and Electronics Center for the College of Sciences at San Diego State University.  That group has gone through several configurations since 1981 when I started it along about half of its current path, and currently looks like this.

Other projects were done as consulting/contract projects for commercial clients or for researchers at other universities (UC San Diego in particular).  Involved in many of these has been long-suffering partner-in-crime Bill Morris, one of whose talents is a thorough understanding of hardware issues matched with a tenacious ability to get software done, and done right. 

Some of the projects below were one-off's and some involved small production runs, harnessing our pool of slave labor, er, I mean student assistants. (Some of the slaves went on to get very decent jobs, for which we take great credit!)

Name/Date Description, Pics

Automation systems
, 1982-90

A parade of Apple-II and PC-based interfaces, outboard stimulus controllers, signal conditioners, and software for controlling a variety of experimental animal behavior chambers at SDSU and UC San Diego. Monitored, stimulated, exercised and delighted (?) many generations of mice, rats, pigeons and chimpanzees. Many of these used the psychology experiment control software framework that's described elsewhere.
lana_01.gif (8980 bytes)This is not a photo of our chimp language apparatus, this is the Rumbaughs' famous Lana. However, ours looked similar, with projector-face switches, feeders and so on.  Bill and I designed a control language to give experimenters millisecond- resolution timing on the Apple-II controller. (6502: a lesson in why other CPUs have a real stack...) sdi_rat_01.gif (6282 bytes)This is an apparatus that monitors a rat's "startle" response to sound stimuli.  This one's from San Diego Instruments, with whom we collaborated on some software and audio stimulus hardware.

Archer fish

1982, 89

archer_01.gif (5561 bytes)An exhibit controller for Sea World San Diego.

Archer fish shoot their insect prey with a jet of water to knock it down for easy munching.  This is a behavior that's normally hard to elicit in a pristine aquarium environment, and the cost of recruiting and training flies was felt to be prohibitive.

So we devised a controller involving fake flies that were periodically lowered into fish-eye view, and which contained temperature sensors to detect a hit.  The controlling computer would then trigger a feeder and drop some "prey" into the water. Originally based on a Radio Shack color computer, which was later replaced by a PC compatible.

There was some concern that the born-in-captivity exhibit residents wouldn't know how to get started, but they took to it like fish to, um, archery. In fact, they got so good they were soon shooting at and gumming up the feeder mechanisms 6 feet above.

Electronics and software design by me, mechanical design and implementation by Dale Wolfe and Tony Haas, and "sensors" by flymaster Jim Zimmer.

LCD Inspection

A manufacturer of controllers with fancy custom LCD displays needed to be able to exercise and test them automatically.   For the inspection system I developed a PC-to-LCD interface to "stimulate" the display, and used a PC-based video capture system and wrote some image analysis software to verify the segments.


hbv_case.gif (9350 bytes)A Tachistoscope is a device for presenting precisely timed visual images, typically of a short duration (down to milliseconds), and is used in investigations of the human visual perception and processing system.  The response time, or the evoked electrical brain activity are used to gauge the number of neural steps in the pathways involved in the processing under investigation.

hbv_int_h.gif (20569 bytes)I developed a number of Apple-II and PC-based T-Scope controllers including units to control traditional fluorescent-tube devices.

The unit shown here uses one of our ISA instrumentation interfaces to drive custom-built vector display hardware. The PC loads the dual-ported static RAM with a collection of vector instructions that are used to sweep out an image on a vector scope display, at a one-millisecond frame rate. (With Bill Morris developing the PC image editor for the vector images.)

"Fun" with
Data Loggers,


poly700_01.gif (4435 bytes)From time to time, some research project had to go where no extension cord had gone before... and that, before the days of decent laptops, called for a "data logger". These charming battery-powered hand-held CMOS micros did the job, but had to be programmed in some arcane macro language, and generally had user-interfaces from hell (picture writing assembler code using a touch-tone phone).

An example job involved an airplane-carried system for controlling and logging data from infra-red radiometers and sending time stamps to a VCR, for aerial monitoring of the vegetation in an experimental site in Alaska. Some electronics involved, but the main excitement was an assembler I wrote so that development could be done on a PC instead of on the touchpad.

Dolphin/Whale audiometry

seaworld_01.jpg (29605 bytes)Several projects involved work with researchers studying dolphins and whales at San Diego's Sea World - Hubbs research facility, particularly the hearing characteristics of various species.  Over the years, a number of pieces of ultrasonic hydrophone-related gear, and experiment-control software, were produced.

Photo: The tough part about dolphin and whale hearing tests is getting the headphones back...  :-)


In this case, used for measuring railroad axle diameters, for use during axle refinishing and replating. [pic to come]  With Bill Morris.

lab timers.

We were tired of ridiculously expensive lab timers, and we needed a bunch. [pic to come] 

Galvanic Skin

[pic to come]   [references]

signal conditioner

sigcond_int.gif (21224 bytes) Provides a variety of input types, including electrically-isolated GSR, audio (and voice-key), and plethysmograph (optical blood-flow sensor).

In order to keep the cost low for our instructional-lab-scale production run, we devised PCBs that could be populated in several different ways to accomodate the conditioning requirements of each kind of input. This allowed us to order a reasonable quantity of PCBs of just one type. This resulted in somewhat sparsely populated PCBs, but spread the controls and connectors over a larger and more understandable front panel.  The four PCBs daisy-chain direct to a commercial  ISA A/D, D/A, parallel I/O card  (With Carmen Sandoval capturing schematics and supervising production.)

Olfactometer controllers.

[under construction]

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