Moore's Law Drives Data Acquisition

Quick, what was the first data-recording system? National Instruments gives the telegraph that honor in a chapter titled “Moore’s Law at Work in Data Logging” in its recently released Data Acquisition Technology Outlook 2013. “That system,” the chapter notes, “automatically recorded the dots and dashes of Morse code, which were inscribed on paper tape by a pen moved by an electromagnet.”

The early 20th century saw the first chart recorder built for environmental monitoring. Early chart recorders, NI notes, “were completely analog and largely mechanical” and “dragged an ink pen over paper to record changes in electrical signals.”

The chapter traces the evolution of data acquisition through the space program, which saw the introduction of digital, high-speed data acquisition systems for both analog and digital data. Over the years, ink and paper have given way to digital storage. As NI puts it, “As Moore’s law continues to progress, creating more powerful, less expensive, and smaller processors that use less energy, future data acquisition and logging systems will leverage this technology to grow more intelligent and feature-rich.”

Of course, the data capture and storage capabilities within a datalogging system are only part of the picture. The signal interface is critical as well. As my colleague Tom Lecklider puts it, “An important key to making good measurements is to choose instrumentation with input characteristics that complement those of the signal. The input to a measuring instrument or data acquisition (DAQ) system typically has two or three terminals: the signal and its return if single-ended or two signals and their reference if differential. Similarly, a signal source has two terminals if single-ended and three if differential. The instrument can have additional guard or shield terminals, but they don’t affect the basic operation.”

Tom elaborates on the signal side of the DAQ picture in his May special report, which you can read here. On the other hand, the Moore's law chapter in the NI report covers the other side of the picture.

Ultimately, the two sides will come closer together. NI notes that datalogging intelligence is becoming more decentralized as processor elements from companies like ARM, Intel, and Xilinx move closer to the sensor and signal. NI cites several examples of high-performance datalogging systems, including its own NI CompactDAQ and NI CompactRIO systems, HBM's QuantumX CX22W, Yokogawa's WE7000, and Graphtec's GL900.

The NI report notes that whereas traditional DAQ systems log every data point, whether or not anything interesting is happening. Modern systems, in contrast, have the intelligence to adapt their behavior to external conditions and can, for example, increase their sample rates when a trigger condition is met. Further, such systems can analyze data in real time and deliver fast results.

The report quotes Mariano Kimbara, senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan, as saying, “We foresee the need for DAQ systems that not only acquire data over a network, server, or PCs but also provide intelligence to help with the decision-making process.”

The NI report cites automotive and transportation and electrical grid applications as ones that push the limits of logging systems. For the latter application, the report notes, “Engineers at ELCOM in India used LabVIEW and CompactRIO, an embedded acquisition system featuring an embedded processor and an FPGA, to create a flexible, high-performance power quality analyzer. Within this system, the processor was used for tasks such as advanced floating-point processing, high-speed streaming to disk, and network connectivity.”

With respect to automotive and transportation applications, the report notes that advanced vehicles must test and monitor many parameters using intelligent and rugged systems. The report offers an example: “…engineers at Integrated Test & Measurement (ITM) in the United States needed a high-performance and flexible in-vehicle test solution to determine the vibration levels of an on-highway vocational vehicle’s exhaust system during operation. They built a high-speed vibration logging solution that provided a wireless interface from a laptop or mobile device with the stand-alone NI CompactDAQ system programmed with LabVIEW system design software.”

The automotive data-acquisition topic will be elaborated on at Sensors Expo.

The NI report also offers a chapter on emerging wired and wireless bus technologies, noting, “New bus technologies are poised to evolve data acquisition systems and address the challenges of future measurement applications.” The chapter offers details on PCI Express 4.0, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, Power-over-Ethernet+, 802.11ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth Smart, and LTE.

In addition, the report includes chapters on mobile technology and big data. These topics will be covered in our June and July print editions, respectively.

Data Acquisition Technology Outlook 2013

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