Control Engineering's E-News for Human-Machine Interface - April, 2001


In this issue:

Technology Webcast

Join me on May 1 at 1:00 PM CDT (2:00 EDT) for an informative technology webcast, 'Moving Manufacturing to the Internet Age.' I'll be discussing some industry trends, while Benson Hougland of Opto 22 will introduce a new product and John Irwin of Callaway Golf describes real applications. Also a chance for live Q&A. Sign up at /webcast/

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Trade Shows

I'm just back from San Francisco and the Embedded Systems Conference. This is one conference and trade show where attendees really go to the conference. ESC moved to a larger venue this year and still overfilled it. Trade shows aren't dead, yet.

Embedded web technologies, networking, and better software development tools headlined announcements. Java is still alive, but not the buzz of a few years ago. Applications like HMI development still use it. Linux has moved from religious belief to offering real solutions. Companies like Lineo and Monta Vista can boast real application experience and improved tools.

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Whither HMI

Several people have asked the same question over the past month, 'HMI, isn't it dead, yet?' It is true that much of the classic HMI software functions can be accomplished with browsers and 'roll-your-own' small VB applications. Suppliers of HMI/SCADA software contest that assertion. The pretty screens that characterized the early days of this product category drew from a 'tag database' of data directly imported from the controller. If a database exists, then why not exploit it to the fullest? That is what is happening. Simple operator interface screens are now a 'given.' What is important is building a sophisticated database in real time and providing hooks to various manufacturing and enterprise applications that can us them. HMI dead? I think it's just growing up.

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Peer-to-peer and Collaboration

Peer-to-peer and other forms of collaboration tools are sprouting like this like the flowers in my yard this spring. I've talked about Oculus Technologies . Entivity introduced Automation ProjectNet at National Manufacturing Week. Another comes from Digital Paper . It provides a secure environment to test myDigitalPaper, a content exchange and collaboration hosted application. Still another is that offers a variety of collaboration applications.

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Portable Devices

InHand Electronics has created very small, portable handheld devices for OEMs. At Embedded Systems it announced a partnership with Conversay to offer speech recognition on its devices. Portable devices are getting better every day. Your Palm or Pocket PC may be the only troubleshooting tool you need on the factory floor. Voice recognition would be very handy for those times you are lining up a sensor or testing inputs or outputs.

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Internet Appliances

Don't be surprised to find out that many HMI devices are really 'Internet Applicances.' As web servers and related technologies like XML become the accepted mode of moving manufacturing information, operators will use an Internet Appliance, aka HMI display, to view and interact with that data. ANT Limited has released a 'content-driven' embedded browser. Using this technology, OEMs can design an embedded browser streamlined to just the needs of its customers enabling faster time-to-market and lower costs.

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The Elegant Universe

Brian Greene has written an excellent book on the frontiers of modern physics titled, 'The Elegant Universe' (Vintage Books, 1999). The discussion is not mathematical but gives a lucid explanation of the theory and implications of superstring math as it relates to physical reality. Lest you think that physicists are about to derive the final theory, Mr. Greene leaves us with questions that remain to be solved. Highly recommended.

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Art of Possibility

'I dwell in Possibility.,' said Emily Dickenson. So do all of us, say Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander in 'The Art of Possibility' (Harvard Business School Press, 2000). This practical book is organized around 11 'practices' designed to help readers become aware of possibilities that may have never occurred to them. As they say in the introduction, 'Markets in free societies are rapidly replacing governments and religious institutions as regulators of the highest authority, and markets perform without values. The arts can break new ground here, bringing human consciousness to bear on these flows of product and capital, energizing our interpersonal connections, and opening new doors for invention and practice.' Unlike many 'self-help' books, this lively discussion should break through your preoccupation and open up your thinking to new possibilities.

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Organic Displays

Ever wonder how flat-panel displays could become better? Check out April 2001 'Technology Review' from MIT. In 'A Bright Future for Displays,' Bob Johnstone explores how researchers are using organic 'LED's' to fashion brighter, sharper images on flat-panel displays.

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Question of the Month

How do you use the web for business? Do you search for information? Do you read news and magazines on your display? Print for later reading? Anything you'd like to see on Control Engineering's web site that's not there? Let me know.

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April in Control Engineering

Check out Control Engineering's Buyers Guide and the system integrator's guide .

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