A Typical Remote Labs Software Package

What are Remote Labs?

Remote laboratories are a feature allowing students to access laboratory equipment and exercises situated at remote locations. By accessing a remote lab, a student can operate a laboratory over the internet. In doing so, they are provided with control of the remote laboratory computer that controls the laboratory. Remote laboratories offer students an opportunity to conduct a laboratory session in circumstances where they cannot attend a physical laboratory. The figure below shows how the remote laboratories function.

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Figure 27: Remote Laboratories Block Diagram

How to use Remote Labs

Accessing the remote laboratory feature is done by simply clicking on the remote laboratory icon in the Electromeet program. The proctoring icon is located at the top left of the program and the icon looks like a stop watch. The location of the remote laboratory icon can be seen in the figure below.

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Figure 28: Locating the Remote Labs Icon

Once the remote laboratory feature has been successfully accessed, the feature should appear as seen in the figure below. The figure below shows all the available remote laboratory session and all the remote laboratory features. The remote lab feature is extremely easy to use. The desired remote laboratory is accessed by simple clicking on the appropriate lab name. The required laboratory feature is also accessed by simply clicking on the desired feature. The features of the remote laboratories are view lab document, view remote computer, control remote computer, view lab cameras and lab file explorer.

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Figure 29: The Remote Labs Feature

The lab file features are indicated in the figure below and match the following descriptions (with numbering):

1.  View Lab Document. This feature allows students to view any documentation necessary to complete the lab.

2.  View Remote Computer. This feature allows students to view a lab that is currently being conducted. They have no control over the lab; they will just watch.

3.  Control Remote Computer. This feature allows students to conduct the laboratory. If someone is already running a lab, students trying to gain access will join the queue. There are time limitations on the laboratories, so students will never be forced to wait for extremely long periods of time.

4.  View Lab Cameras. This feature allows students to view the webcams that are steaming the videos of the laboratory equipment that will be using.

5.  Lab File Explorer. This feature allows students to access any online files relevant to the lab.

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Figure 30: The Remote Lab Features

The most useful aspect of the Remote Labs is the ability to control the laboratory equipment and have live video streaming the laboratory to the student’s laptop computer. To access the lab and watch the lab cameras simultaneously, both the control remote computer and view lab camera features must be enabled. The figure below demonstrates how to access the remote computer. This is simply done by clicking on the desired lab name and clicking on the control remote computer icon. Once successfully done, a VNC Authentication popup will appear. This requires a password that is unique to each laboratory. In order to access the required laboratory, the student must enter the password that will be provided to them.

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Figure 31: Accessing the Remote Labs

Once the correct password is entered, control to the remote computer will be granted. The remote computer desktop can be seen in the figure below. If another student is already controlling the remote laboratory computer, the student trying to gain access will join the queue. Whilst a student waits to gain remote laboratory access, they can watch the other student undertake the laboratory practical by pressing on the view remote compute icon. This grants the student viewing privileges–not control privileges. The view remote computer feature will look identical to the figure below. It will just display the remote laboratory computer desktop to the student viewer.

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Figure 32: Remote Laboratory Desktop Control

You can access the remote laboratory cameras by clicking on the “View lab cameras” icon. This will enable the Remote Lab Video window. Once “inside” the lab, you can enable the desired remote laboratory cameras. An example of enabled laboratory cameras can be observed below. To enable the desired laboratory cameras, you simply click on the cameras required and click the icon with the arrows facing to the right. Once the cameras are activated, they will display as seen in the figure below.

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Figure 33: Remote Laboratory Cameras

Configuring a Remote Laboratory Session

Introduction

This short note is to illustrate how to install and to set up a remote laboratory session using Electromeet for remote students to access. A remote laboratory session will allow others to access a remote lab.

The first part regards installing the VNC software. This is the software which will allow people control of the computer remotely. The second section provides instructions and information regarding the remote lab software installation and set up. This will ensure that the remote lab setting can be configured to suit the laboratory that will be run (correct ports, lab title, lab duration, audio settings and video settings). Subsequent sections show you how to choose whether the laboratory operations will be an application or service, how to change laboratory configurations if any settings need to be altered, and how to set up your firewall to allow Electromeet to operate successfully.

Installing VNC

In order to establish a remote laboratory session you must install the Remote Lab software in conjunction with an installed VNC server.

Firstly, a VNC server should be installed. This can be installed by accessing uvnc.com/.

Installing Remote Lab Software

Once the VNC server is installed to be able to use the remote lab, you must have the installation package of the Electromeet remote lab software. The remote lab software can we strongly recommend is version 1.0.9.6.1. This version can be obtained from the following link.

uvnc.com/downloads/ultravnc/95-downlaod-10961.html

After installing the VNC package, run the configuration of the Remote Lab Service (which can be downloaded from the Electromeet site).

The main panel contains list of available configurations or remote laboratory session.

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Figure 34: Remote Lab Service Introduction

When you start it for the first time, the list will be empty. This is because no configurations or remote lab session have been configured.

The fastest and easiest way to configure it for the first time will be to run the wizard. This is simply done by clicking on the “Start Wizard” icon.

Step 1

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Figure 35: Step 1

The first dialog of the wizard contains the most basic information for the remote laboratory configurations.

Host name. This is the name of the log in server to which the lab service will advertise itself.

Session name. This is the name that the session will have in the configuration list. It is also the name of the session after the registration is complete.

Listen port. This is the port used by the lab server, to listen for incoming connections.

Step 2

This step contains the title of the laboratory sessions.

The title of application. This is the name given to the laboratory session.

Length of the lab in minutes. This allows for control and limitations to be placed on how long students will be able to work in the lab. Students can only access a remote laboratory one at a time. Once the time, which has been defined in the “Length of the lab in minutes” box expires, students will be logged out from the Remote Laboratory session. Immediately after the student has been logged out from the laboratory session, the next student in line will be allowed to access the remote labs.

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Figure 36: Step 2

Website of the lab details. This references students to a website. This website will contain additional information about the laboratory session the students will be undertaking.

Select lab documentation. This feature gives you the opportunity to add a document containing a description of the lab. These documents will provide full information regarding the laboratories. The information will include purpose, procedure and any extra information required by the students. The additional information may include further instructions on gaining access to the remote laboratory sessions. The documentations should include all necessary information required by the students.

Step 3

The third step of the wizard allows you to select webcams, through which the students will be able to observe the results of their actions in the remote lab. This feature of the remote labs is critical as it adds an element of realism. It separates a remote lab session from a virtual simulation since it provides real observable behavior.

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Figure 37: Step 3

You can select some, or all, of the available cameras, and also select the size of the cameras. The size of the image display has only two options; big or small.

Step 4

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Figure 38: Step 4

The 4th step will let you select folders that you will share with the students. This allows students to download or upload files at the lab server.

The transfer port is the port number through which files will be transferred. This port number will allow you to exchange files with the lab server.

Remote Lab Service

After you have configured some labs, you can change the way it will run. The lab can run as either an application or a service.

After saving the configuration, you will be able to use one of the labs by selecting it in the lab list. The name you gave the remote lab session in the configuration will display in the list. After selecting the lab, you can choose whether you want to run the remote lab as either application more or service mode.

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Figure 39: Selecting a Lab for Use

Selecting application mode allows you to will be able to start or stop the lab running it like an application.

Selecting “Service” mode allows you to run the session in the background of the computer, referencing to the log in server and making it available to the remote users of the remote laboratory sessions.

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Figure 40: Remote Laboratory Installation

The “Install service with current config” button will install a service in your computer to use the selected configuration. Once installed, the other icons will activate allowing you to start, stop, install or uninstall services. If you have already used the lab, you will most probably have configured labs in the list.

Remote Lab Server Configuration

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Figure 41: Lab Server Configuration

Using the “Configure” button will let you change the configuration of any listed labs in your computer. The options here are similar to the items in the remote lab configuration wizard. The only new thing here is VNC section. This section will let you configure VNC service that you have already installed alongside with the remote lab software. You can configure VNC port for incoming connections and passwords for the remote laboratory sessions.

There is also a button that will open dialog of the VNC configuration to set up the more advanced options.

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Figure 42: Advanced Options

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Figure 43: Video Cameras and Audio Tabs

The “Video and audio” tab will let you select audio devices and stream audio along with the video streams to the students. The advantage of this feature is to add sound to the observations gained through the video feature. Audio will make the remote laboratory session, in conjunction with the video streaming feature, as realistic as possible. This makes the remote laboratory session more realistic and less like a virtual simulation.

Opening the Firewall

Remote Lab uses, by default, only a few ports to accept connections.

The main default port is 5900.

This port is used by the VNC server. This is the port which is used to share the lab server’s desktop with users. It can be changed from the configuration program of the lab service, or from the configuration of the VNC server itself.

TCP port 1144 is used for file transfer between the lab server and clients. If the remote lab is a public IP address, there is probably no need to configure the router. Usually it will have a private IP address in the form 10.xx.xx.xx or 192.168.xx.xx.

This will mean that the lab server is behind some router or firewall hardware, which is completing NAT (Network Address Translation). If the remote lab server is behind a firewall or router, you need to make sure that the default ports Electromeet operates form are accessible from outside.

This procedure depends on the specific hardware, and there is no universal recipe to do it, but most often it is called Destination NAT, Virtual server, or in the home routers, there is an option called DMZ (demilitarized zone) which will forward the incoming connection from internet to a specific IP address behind firewall on your internal network. In most cases you will need to read the router’s manual pages and find the exact commands to configure it.

A summary of the methodology is as follows: You need to forward incoming connections to ports 5900, 1144 to the IP address of the lab computer.