16.682 | Spring 2006 | Undergraduate

Prototyping Avionics


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Labs: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Class Description and Learning Objectives

Bottom line: you’ll learn to design, build, and debug printed-circuit-boards.

Longer story: In the past building prototypes of electronic components for new projects/products was limited to using protoboards and wirewrap. Manufacturing a printed-circuit-board was limited to final production, where mistakes in the implementation meant physically cutting traces on the board and adding wire jumpers - the final products would have these fixes on them! Today that is no longer the case, while you will still cut traces and use jumpers when debugging a board, manufacturing a new final version without the errors is a simple and relatively inexpensive task. For that matter, manufacturing a prototype printed circuit board which you know is likely to have errors but which will get the design substantially closer to the final product than a protoboard setup is not only possible, but desirable.

Inexpensive prototyping of PCB’s allows you to go through multiple revisions, incrementally increasing the complexity (reducing the size, increasing the layer count, etc) without the worry of only being able to manufacture once. This process provides many benefits to both the worlds of research and industry, as the design of avionics can proceed faster and with lower costs. That is why the class will teach you how to design PCB’s.

Before you actually build a PCB the class will introduce you to the major concepts of electrical engineering which you should be aware of when designing avionics. The class is not a substitute for something like Unified/6.002, 6.111, or 6.115 - but if you end up taking those classes after this one, you will have a reasonable idea of what those classes teach you in great detail. You should also be able to take an existing design and reverse-engineer enough of it to understand its general functions. To this purpose, we will review general EE concepts for about a month.

In summary, the primary objective of the course is help you experience the implementations stages of anavionics project: after initial conception and design of an avionics project (outside the scope of the class), to be able to create a final product for integration into a larger system. After the class you should be able to:

  • Identify the main components of an avionics prototype
  • Use schematic capture software to create detailed schematics
  • Use PCB layout programs to create avionics boards
  • Understand the test and debug processes for avionics

Schedule overview summarizes the major topics of the class and when they will be covered throughout the term.

1-5 Electronics review




Electronics review (cont.)

Schematics (cont.)


Assembly and debug

Documentation (cont.)

9-11 PCB’s (cont.)
12-13 Assembly and debug (cont.)

Assembly and debug (cont.)

Documentation (cont.)

Assignments, Projects, and Grading

The first half of the class will utilize problem sets based on the introductory material. The second half will be based on projects which demonstrate the ability to produce an avionics prototype board. The following are the deliverables for this class:

Problem Sets

  • Four problem sets during the first month of class to demonstrate the ability to identify essential electronic components
  • While students can work in groups to discuss the problem sets, each student is expected to turn in their own solutions


  • Detailed schematic
  • Documentation on the operation of the circuit
  • PCB layout
  • Report documenting their experience and results during testing and debugging
  • Depending on class registration and the availability of software licenses, the projects will be worked either individually or in groups of at most three students, preferably two. When the work is performed in groups, the schematic, functional documentation, and layout will be shared deliverables, while the experiences and debugging report will be turned in individually.


Grading will be based on the following criteria:

Homework 30%
Documentation: Functional 10%
Schematic 25%
Layout 25%
Documentation: Test, debug, results 10%

The class will have no exams.


The class has no required textbooks, rather it will emphasize importance of an avionics engineer to be able to locate and understand product data-sheets. The need for this is especially true today, when new products are available continuously.

For help during the first part of the class, when we review electronic theory and components, the following optional textbook may be useful:

Horowitz, P., and W. Hill. The Art of Electronics. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN: 9780521370950.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2006
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Lecture Notes