Recently, I sat down with Rick Robinson and Bob Gronlund of Agilent Technologies during their Measurement to Minds tour. I always enjoy these Agilent meetings. Invariably, I find out how engineers are thinking about certain products and technologies. Not to disappoint me, Rick and Bob came armed with a dozen "connectivity" quotes from engineers all over the world.
Rick and Bob spoke about connectivity as it relates to the "measurements-to-minds" concept. Designers rely on measurements, of course, but they often need to make decisions based on those measurements.
Agilent's research discovered that customers want a simple way to get data from instruments to a PC running Microsoft Word or Excel. One typical designer said, "I spend too much time transferring data. It is a real problem." The research also found that customers want a simple way to get data into analysis applications, such as MatLab. "With so much desktop horsepower, why have the test equipment do post-analysis?" another asked.
I don't make many measurements during the course of my day, but as a PC user I can certainly relate to these frustrations. A former boss of mine once called the PC a "mind amplifier." I think many of today's users have lost sight of this. More and more, people see the PC as an instrument for gathering and viewing information, usually from the Internet, without considering how it can be used to perform mind-amplifying computing tasks.
On the web, it's easy to acquire data like sports statistics, stock market quotes, and weather readings. Many web portals do a great job of making customized data appear magically on your screen every time you view the page. But, the data stops there. I, for one, want an easy way to get these figures into Excel so I can do something with them—other than just view them.
This is very similar to what happens to designers with their test instruments. They can easily view their waveforms and data on screen. However, the trick is loading that data—in exactly the right form—into Excel, MatLab, or some other program. I can watch my customized web page bring up all the data that I want to see, and that's great. But I really want to link those numbers to Excel.
Probably just like a designer, I have to cut the data out of the web page and paste it into Excel. Then, I have to create a macro to put the data exactly where I want it on the spreadsheet. If there's an easier way to do this, I don't know about it. Am I alone in thinking that creating anything more than a simple macro in Excel is a terrific pain? Unless you're a Visual Basic programmer, you cannot get too far with Excel macros. This is very frustrating, and time consuming, too. I wouldn't want to be worrying about time-to-market issues as I struggle to write a macro. Designers feel the same way, I'm sure.
Agilent's research backs this up. The company has learned that engineers would rather not program, although they believe some programming is unavoidable. "By the time I get my programming done, I've forgotten what I wanted to do," said an Agilent customer from Dallas.
As connectivity reigns in the years ahead, designers will be more prone to leaving their instruments in one place and moving to another place to view and then think about their measurements. If they do this with a web browser, how will they get the data into their applications?
Fortunately, Rick and Bob introduced Agilent's new Center of Technology for Connectivity. Designers, then, should be relieved to hear that it will focus on the "measurements-to-mind" thing, and not just the "view" thing.