I have been a big believer that we from the test and measurement industry should start taking advantage of what it is being produced by the Maker’s movement in some of our professional applications. In this post I will show an alternative that is soon to be available for the test and measurement community to build professional grade low cost wireless data acquisition systems.
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the Maker’s movement and that I am a believer that we, from the test and measurement industry, shouldn’t constraint ourselves by looking at what it is produced by the movement as something for the hobbyist only. The cost of electronics has reached an all time low due, in part, to this very movement, which significantly increased the total available market of electronics to the hobbyist and kids in school age. Economy 101 states that economies of scale reduce the final price of an item to its final consumer. That is exactly what is happening today with lower end electronics. As such, we can get much more processing horse power for much less dollars. If one looks at some popular single board computers like the Raspberry Pi and Beaglebone, or at some up and comers such as Hardkernel with its Odroid 8-core processor single board computer, one will quickly verify my statement above. For the ones, such as myself, who have been in the wonderful road of technology for over two decades (I guess this is my geeky way of saying I am getting old), we wouldn’t imagine that such computing power for the cost of a dinner for one would become available so quickly.
I really think it would be just a matter of time before the test and measurement community would start putting two and two together, and understand this means a huge opportunity for the industry. Companies started to come up with ways of extending the I/O capability of such processing devices. Take the PMOD standard by Digilent as an example. The PMOD interface allows for a standardized way for peripheral I/O modules to be connected to host controller boards. Now, a question for you, my fellow test and measurement colleague. Does that sound familiar? A host controller with peripheral I/O modules. Humm… Certainly makes one think. If only we had a way to bringing LabVIEW to this mix so we can program Arduino Controller boards with LabVIEW, program Raspberry Pi computers with LabVIEW and plug in I/O extension modules so we can build low horse power data acquisition systems. Wink wink… The fact that National Instruments acquired Digilent is probably a good validation to the thought that this is a potential direction the industry could go to build low cost alternatives for low horse power data acquisition systems.
Low Cost Wireless Data Acquisition Systems
The next natural question that could be asked is: What about low cost wireless data acquisition systems? Could we extend the same low cost mentality explained above into building inexpensive low cost wireless data acquisition systems? In a time when the term Internet of Things (IoT) is in the forefront of everyone’s minds, it would be silly not to intuit the maker’s movement would also contribute to the up and coming low cost wireless data acquisition hardware and tools. Companies like Espressif jumped in that bandwagon and have created System on Chips that are perfect building blocks for low cost wireless data acquisition hardware. Another question for you fellow T&M’er; what if we could combine the modularity and expandability of the PMOD standard, the Espressif wireless building blocks and the easy of graphical programming of LabVIEW to build a low cost wireless data acquisition platform?
This is what we are doing. We are very close to delivering a hardware product, the Programmable Wireless Stamp, that combines all of those features in a single low cost board. The board supports the PMOD standard by providing plug and play PMOD connectors for I/O expandability, it is wireless in nature, and includes a very powerful microcontroller one can program with LabVIEW via the Arduino Compatible Compiler for LabVIEW product. This board, along with PMOD modules for specific I/O support will provide a very powerful low cost wireless data acquisition platform. Coupling that with the Arduino Compatible Compiler for LabVIEW, and one brings the power of LabVIEW to the party. Once this board is made available and the Raspberry Pi Compatible Compiler for LabVIEW is released, it is not far fetched to think of an embedded architecture such as the one below.
Imagine using a Raspberry Pi in the place of the Host block in the diagram above, and making the Programmable Wireless Stamp to function as each of the Embedded Nodes. Each node would carry PMOD modules that would be specific to the types of I/O being monitored by the node. All of this programmed in LabVIEW!
The possibilities are endless once we combine our collective test and measurement knowledge and creativity, with the low cost tools that are becoming available as of late. It is for sure a great time to be an Engineer!