Avichal Kulshrestha, Technical Marketing Engineer, National Instruments
Things are getting a lot smarter and there are a lot more things. It has been referred to as the Internet of Things, Connected World, Internet of Everything, and many more things. It means technologies like enhanced mobile broadband, reliable machine-type communication, connected cars, etc. What it means for consumers is truly remarkable. What it means for test and measurement users is a paradigm shift. Smart devices are not just consumer devices, they are just as much industrial devices. They face similar challenges and if a test vendor decided that they were going to service every one of these requirements in the old paradigm, they would need more engineers than they could afford and be too slow. For many of us, the Internet of Things (IoT) has already become a personal reality. However, even for early technology adopters, the IoT is still in its infancy. Gartner estimates there will soon be more connected devices than humans, and by 2022 each household could contain more than 500 connected devices.
Although we enjoy the benefits of the IoT as consumers, as engineers the sheer scale of IoT can be overwhelming. From testing the smallest integrated circuit (IC) to the fully assembled wireless device, IoT is causing a paradigm shift in the test and measurement industry. In semiconductor, the push for smaller and more integrated sensor technology is driving new, lower-cost approaches to mixed-signal test. In consumer electronics, maintaining test coverage despite increasing wireless complexity is driving innovative test approaches such as parallel test. These systems not only need to improve upon the status quo of rack-and-stack box instruments or turnkey ATE systems but also need connectivity and problem-solving capability that meets or exceeds the device under test (DUT). That is a scary thought, if you think about the pace of innovation. Can you rely on instrument or ATE vendors to innovate that fast?
There are two approaches to serving the test and measurement industry. The first assumes that the vendor is smarter than the customer, and ultimately knows what the customer needs better than they do. This approach deals in complete, fixed functionality, point solutions and for several decades of test and measurement, this strategy was exactly what the market needed and demanded. It simply made sense, because things were a lot simpler, but the world is changing. The second approach to servicing the test and measurement market is a platform. It assumes that the customer is the smartest piece of the solution and only they know the requirements. This approach focuses on interoperability and the user's ability to both automate and customize each solution with modular hardware and flexible software. In this approach, the customer is in control of what their solution turns out to be, and the vendor provides the tools to help them design it.
Test and measurement vendors use platforms, but that does not make all platforms equal. Some are purely for internal design efficiency. If an oscilloscope vendor can use the same computing circuit daughterboard on every scope, they are using a common platform for one part of the design while the sample rate, bandwidth, or screen size of their scope evolve. It is not good enough for a vendor to use a platform. They must architect and invest in that platform for the customer to use it with ultimate flexibility. Not everything needs to be 100 percent open source – that can create different management challenges – but it must evolve faster than the vendor can manage it. With a platform built from the ground up for customization – either through the latest commercial technology or through your domain knowledge – you become part of a living, breathing, and evolving ecosystem that is already responsible for creating innovative approaches to automated test across every industry.