This year marks the 50th anniversary of EE-Evaluation Engineering, which launched in March 1962. As I pointed out in my editorial last October, EE’s debut occurred the year that President John F. Kennedy announced the United States would put a man on the moon within a decade. That same year, discrete-transistor-equipped Teslstar 1 began transmitting voice and video signals. Newfangled integrated circuits were not sufficiently reliable for use in space. Even Telstar’s transistors survived for only a few months before succumbing to radiation.
Today, we live in a time when the Curiosity rover is on its way to Mars on a multiyear mission. As I write this, Curiosity’s predecessor, Opportunity, having left Earth in July 2003, is scouting out a place to spend the Martian winter.
Reliability has come a long way since 1962. In an effort to map this journey, my colleague Senior Technical Editor Tom Lecklider has been perusing early issues of EE. He notes that the magazine started as a vehicle for reliability-related issues, primarily as they related to components: “Passive components such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, and connectors used to experience a large number of failures compared to the almost perfect performance today.”
He adds that in the early 1960s, “Component reliability was a very big deal,” with big companies employing component engineers whose job it was to evaluate a range of similar components and find the best combination of reliability, cost, availability, size, and stability. To meet the needs of these engineers, early issues of EE ran articles related to confidence limits or Weibull distribution plots or some other aspect of reliability.
Component reliability can never be taken for granted, and the challenges facing engineers have evolved over the years. For example, problems now are more likely to surface from assembling flawless components into a system capable of implementing complex I/Q modulation schemes. And while software content was virtually nonexistent in electronic products in 1962, today software is ubiquitous in embedded designs, presenting its own challenges and opportunities.
As a result, current issues of EE are less likely to include articles on component reliability and more likely to focus on the oscilloscopes, serial-bus protocol analyzers, and frequency-domain instruments necessary to ensure the quality of today’s complex electronic products.
As a special feature in each 50th anniversary issue, we will provide a glimpse of how we got to where we are today. This month, Tom looks at the evolution of oscilloscopes. In subsequent issues, we’ll look at the progression of everything from DMMs to ATE.
While it’s fascinating to look back, our primary mission remains informing you of where technology is now and what’s in store for the future. So peruse Tom’s historical perspective on page 36, but be sure to study his in-depth special report in this issue to learn about the latest in oscilloscope innovation.
In other articles this month, Jeremy Campbell of Teradyne brings you up to date on microcontroller test and its effect on ATE power-supply requirements. Also, Tom provides a report on some of the ways in which the power grid is being made smarter. Today’s embedded systems and Internet-connected devices are hungry for data, so I explore the sensors that can provide such data. Finally, I take a look at emerging engineering apps for mobile devices.
Throughout the year, we will be elaborating on these and other topics and invite your comments on where test technology has been and where it’s going.