CyclePad: An articulate virtual laboratory for engineering thermodynamics

Kenneth D. Forbus, Peter B. Whalley, John O. Everett, Leo Ureel, Mike Brokowski, Julie Baher, Sven E. Kuehne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


One of the original motivations for research in qualitative physics was the development of intelligent tutoring systems and learning environments for physical domains and complex systems. This article demonstrates how a synergistic combination of qualitative reasoning and other AI techniques can be used to create an intelligent learning environment for students learning to analyze and design thermodynamic cycles. Pedagogically this problem is important because thermodynamic cycles express the key properties of systems which interconvert work and heat, such as power plants, propulsion systems, refrigerators, and heat pumps, and the study of thermodynamic cycles occupies a major portion of an engineering student's training in thermodynamics. This article describes CyclePad, a fully implemented articulate virtual laboratory that captures a substantial fraction of the knowledge in an introductory thermodynamics textbook and provides explanations of calculations and coaching support for students who are learning the principles of such cycles. CyclePad employs a distributed coaching model, where a combination of on-board facilities and a server-based coach accessed via email provide help for students, using a combination of teleological and case-based reasoning. CyclePad is a fielded system, in routine use in classrooms scattered all over the world. We analyze the combination of ideas that made CyclePad possible and comment on some lessons learned about the utility of various AI techniques based on our experience in fielding CyclePad.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-347
Number of pages51
JournalArtificial Intelligence
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 1999


  • AI and education
  • Case-based coaching
  • Compositional modeling
  • Engineering thermodynamics
  • Functional reasoning
  • Intelligent learning environments
  • Qualitative reasoning
  • Virtual laboratories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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