Developing a mobile application to model cybernetic systems

This year I took part in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP), doing a 6 week placement over the summer. During my placement, I worked with lecturer Dr. Richard Mitchell to develop an application for smartphones that supports his lecture matarial on cybernetic systems.

This application addresses an issue that impacted me during my first year. Dr Mitchell provided a set of demonstration applications to accompany his lecturers. However, they were all windows applications! Not only could I not run the application in the lectures without a laptop, but because I use Mac OS X, I could not run them at all!

The demo applications display a block model of different systems and allow you to see the effects that changing parameters of the system has on the output of the system being modelled, allowing you to explore systems and learn more about how they behave. Over my placement I worked on bringing these applications to mobile devices.

One of the major challenges I faced during this placement was that, in order to maximise the reach of the application, I developed two functionally identical versions in parallel using an agile method of development. One version was for Apple’s iOS devices and the other for Google’s Android devices. This created a challenge as the development for the two platforms is very different and therefore features do not always work the same for both!

Throughout the placement, Dr. Mitchell and I have been looking at how the apps, once finished, can be applied to learning. This is somthing that I feel is very important, as this is a real chance to prove that students having their phones out during lectures doesn’t have to be a bad thing! I feel that by taking the power of the small computer that is inside most students’ pockets (or hand in some cases) and using it as an extra resource for learning is a big step forward for education. Not only does it make the resources available to more students, but it also makes them available anywhere at any time that the student has their phone on them, including during lectures!

If you are interested in finding out more about my UROP placement, I have posted a weekly update on the development of the application on my blog, which can be found at

Oliver Hayman, School of Systems Engineering