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Finding the right place for the subsystems

Test equipment has an input, a processing component, and a display. Modern computing technologies have complicated the question about how these should be integrated. From standalone devices and chart recorders the trend is towards segregating the functions of data collection, processing that data for measurement, and display of the measurement.

Electronics Lab describes an interesting example in Screenscope: a standalone oscilloscope – just connect a monitor. Oscilloscopes provide an interesting example because of the potential for complex processing and the need for a graphic display. Ancient technology just collected a signal, scaled it, and shot it onto a CRT for display. Modern equivalents digitize the signal, subject it to all sorts of analysis, and then create a graphical presentation. The range runs from the standalone oscilloscope to the software that uses a sound card on a common PC. In between are the data collectors that feed software on a PC and the Screenscope that only uses the display.

The key for the Screenscope is that it bundles its software with its input and only uses a video display as a ‘shared’ component. This heads towards the standalone format with only one expensive subsystem left for the user to define. This puts the software component as a commodity and reduces user complexity and constraints significantly.

The next step is one most often seen in video monitoring systems. Those present a video camera as a node on a network that can be used via a standard web browser interface. Geographic information systems are another example in this vein where personal navigation devices can provide not only a map display but also provide position information to an upstream computer. The possibilities are enabled by inexpensive processing capabilities that can not only provide the intended measurement but also present that via net services. They need to be able to provide both the manufacturer’s intended function with built in software but also to allow access to the collected input in near real time so that users or third parties can leverage the equipment via standard interfaces and protocols for additional or custom processing and use.

As with video, there are many ideas being tried to determine protocols and procedures as well as presentation and subsystems. The access to various subsystems is often obscured due to concerns about intellectual property protection. Progress is being made but there remains a long road to go. The goal is to make it easy for users to be able to choose their level of involvement and customization and to move the level of expertise for this from internal development engineer with access to proprietary information to that of the informed amatuer.

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