Evolving from standalone instruments to Internet appliances

Tools and software exist to convert existing products into Internet appliances. This allows data sharing over a standard network, and enables a remote front panel.The more common Internet appliance is an embedded web server. It delivers HTML formatted pages to browsers and communicates with other web servers on the local network or the Internet.

09/01/2000


Tools and software exist to convert existing products into Internet appliances. This allows data sharing over a standard network, and enables a remote front panel.

The more common Internet appliance is an embedded web server. It delivers HTML formatted pages to browsers and communicates with other web servers on the local network or the Internet. These pages can display data normally seen on the front panel of the instrument and accept user input to control or setup the device. Most embedded web servers can be incorporated with their HTML pages in fewer than 100 KB of ROM and RAM. Most embedded web servers, such as Allegro 's RomPager, are provided as C sources, without runtime royalties.

A runtime HTML page parser, such as Allegro's SoftPages, is required to display dynamic data and change pages on the fly. It's usually added to the embedded application. A kernel or RTOS may be used but is not required. RomPager embedded web server engine is invoked with a few lines of code. These products have make files for popular embedded kernels, operating systems, and TCP/IP software stacks. They are also processor independent.

In addition, SoftPages allows users to design front panels for Internet appliances. RomXML parser/framer gives appliances a method of sending and receiving data by parsing XML formatted data and passing information to C programming constructs. Other vendors include Treck 's TCP/IP stack and web server, Phar Lap Software 's proprietary Win32 RTOS, TCP/IP stack, and web server, and Spyglass ' web server and web browser.

Most instruments that are candidates to become Internet appliances are complex and are based on a microcomputer chip. Whether the chip is eight-bit, 16-bit, or more powerful, is not a problem. If it can support the network protocol, it can support web technology. Consider using microprocessors from companies, such as Connect One or NetSilicon , which have included network and web software into their microprocessors.

CRT-like displays can be replicated using Java or ActiveX graphics. Pages for the web browser can be created using tools, such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver. When completed, all front panel functions, controls, and displays can be made available to the operator's browser anywhere that network access to the instrument is available. In fact, if the front panel can be replicated on a web browser, the front panel may not be needed. This could result in a considerable cost savings for the instrument.

Turning an instrument into an Internet appliance can give it added functionality at a fraction of the cost of the original instrument. Customer benefits include displaying the front panel through a web browser wherever the user wants to work and allowing multiple users to monitor the instrument simultaneously from different areas.



Author Information
Edward F. Steinfeld, embedded computing market consultant, Automata International Marketing, Westford, Mass.




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