Electronic Design

What's Next For T&M?

While test & measurement helped make the PC industry possible, we've done little to exploit the body of work it engendered. Until recently, PC I/O couldn't outperform the general-purpose interface bus (GPIB) we've been using for decades. But that has changed with the onset of the high-speed local-area network (LAN), which has latencies commensurate with GPIB and battalions of engineers working to boost its speed.

We've become inured to slow test-system configuration times. But with proper test instrument design, you can now plug the instrument into the PC LAN port and it will work-no excuses, no fiddling. New universal I/O libraries will make this happen.

Instruments will morph easily from R&D to manufacturing. Using the same internal design, we'll strip the graphical-user interface (GUI) from the R&D version of the instrument and create a faceless, LAN-connected instrument.

These small, fast instruments will be able to measure from afar, or fit neatly into a small rack. Named LXI, the new architecture debuts this year (for details, go to www.lxistandard.org). If we split LAN-based instruments along functional lines, we'll have a high-performance synthetic instrument, where software defines the application.

Software is changing in T&M as well. With an open framework like Visual Studio, you can access multiple software languages from a single development environment. Add T&M tools, and you have an environment powered by Visual Studio but understood by test engineers who will no longer be limited to the more proprietary T&M software languages. You'll work in the environment you like, with tools you understand. Advanced software will help you predict the fault coverage for the test at hand.

T&M's future holds lots of promise. Standard PC I/O will simply work. LAN will become the backplane in system-ready LXI instruments. Moreover, software will work in the programming language where you're most comfortable.

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