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NI talks cyber-physical system design, 2014 trends

04 Feb 2014  | Nick Flaherty

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National Instruments has released a report examining five trends that engineers are expected to face this year. In this article, the company discusses cyber-physical system design, analogue data management, use of software defined radio in RF instrumentation, new approaches to system-level design, and remote access through mobile devices.

The cyber-physical design challenge

Cyber-physical systems (CPSs) are engineered to continuously and dynamically interact with their environment through the coupling of distributed computational and physical components. CPS applications are all around us and include smart grid, vehicle traffic networks, smart buildings, cooperative robots, telecommunications, automotive systems, and avionics.

A CPS is characterised by three fundamental and deeply interwoven behaviours—computation, communication, and control—the three Cs of CPSs. Better CPS designs are achievable with disciplined design methodology, holistic development tools, and commercial off-the-shelf hardware.

Big analogue data—The biggest big data

In test, measurement, and control applications, engineers and scientists can collect vast amounts of data in short periods of time. When the National Science Foundation's Large Synoptic Survey Telescope comes online in the U.S. in 2016, it should acquire more than 140TB of information per week.

In general, big data is characterised by a combination of three or four "Vs"—volume, variety, velocity, and value. An additional "V," visibility, is emerging as a key defining characteristic. Drawing accurate and meaningful conclusions from such high-speed and high-volume analogue data is a growing problem. This data adds new challenges to data analysis, search, data integration, reporting, and system maintenance that must be met to keep pace with the exponential growth of data. Solutions for capturing, analysing, and sharing Big Analogue Data work to address the combination of conventional big data issues and the difficulties of managing analogue data.

SDRification of RF instrumentation

The modern RF instrument has evolved from merely a measurement device into a premier tool for system design. This evolution was fuelled by a broad range of technologies from the software defined radio (SDR). The flexibility of the SDR is revolutionising not only the wireless industry but also RF test equipment.

The ability to fully define and customise the behaviour of RF instrumentation with software is a key element to solving the next generation of test challenges. As a result, the architecture of tomorrow's RF instruments will look more and more indistinguishable from that of the SDR.

Evolution of system-level design

Today's complex design spans multiple knowledge domains. The development of a cyber-physical system like a smart appliance requires domain knowledge in a handful of RF standards, power management, physical design, heat dissipation, image capture and analysis and potentially video quality.


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