National Instruments is a company started by technologists and continues to this day as a company full of technologists–many studying industrial networking and engineering software. They really watch new technologies and watch for trends. The past couple of years the company has been issuing a “Trend Watch” document.

Two items in the 2016 Trend Watch piqued my interest, so I was able to talk with Jeffrey Phillips, Section Manager, Software Platform Marketing, and Nick Butler, Sr. Group Manager, Embedded Systems Product Marketing, to flesh out the two trends and what they mean in the area I cover–Consumerization of Software and  Standardization of Networks for Internet of Things.

Consumerization of Software

Trendwatch16_IIoT_23608_ill (1) The idea behind the “consumerization of software” trend is an expansion of things we’ve seen building for years–new engineers are coming into the marketplace with far different experiences interacting with technology than us old guys. I still like text. I started out with BASIC, C, scripts, Java–text things. Ladder Diagram is a visual “language” and I found it arcane and difficult to work with.

Think about todaTrendwatch16_Software_23608_illy’s engineers. We pretty much learned one language at a time and specialized. Today, graduates move fluidly among several language. But their experience is with touch and graphic interfaces.


NI Software Trend Description

Engineering software users of the past typically graduated from a university with an understanding of one programming language. Some were even experienced users who demanded exposure to the darkest corners of programming, with custom memory calls, from-scratch multithreading commands, and hand-optimized performance demands. Software was hard and unapproachable to those who dared to enter without proper training and previous exposure.

And just like that, things started to change. First, graduating engineers were required to have a broad skillset of programming languages to tackle the challenges handed to them in the workplace. Like a trained warrior switching from sword to axe to bow, today’s engineer can jump in and out of Python, C#, HTML, JavaScript, LabVIEW, and Swift. This puts an unprecedented demand on approachability and removes the expectation of expertise. Today’s engineer expects to use multiple tools for any given application.

Secondly, the cost of accessing and acquiring data has rapidly decreased while the need for data has risen. And as technology has become more connected, the cost of processors has declined. According to DataBeans, the price of a processor decreased over 30 percent between 2011 and 2015. This has accelerated the need for highly approachable software by introducing more “nontraditional” programmers to the worlds of robotics, home automation, and even general data acquisition and analysis. Likewise, cultural trends like the Maker Movement and the emergence of consumer product start-ups being acquired for unreal amounts of money further illustrate this shift.

An Inevitable Convergence

For engineers, who are defined by the pride of conquering complex challenges, this confluence of usability and technical sophistication couldn’t come at a better time. No longer tethered and bogged down by the intricate details of multiple languages, tools, and approaches (like writing an actor framework), they can now refocus on engineering’s most grand and impactful challenges (like 5G research and the IoT). In this new tightly integrated future, engineers can find better, faster ways from point A to point B instead of spending their time making better maps.

Likewise, this convergence means that engineers can embrace a future in which they aren’t sole proprietors of innovation. With software that is (gasp) easy to use, the rest of the world is catching up. And by acknowledging the prevalence of simplicity and beauty in software of all stripes, more and more smart people will play meaningful roles in major problem solving.

Standardized industrial networking for IoT

Trendwatch16_IIoT_23608_ill (1)The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) promises a world of smarter, hyper-connected devices and infrastructure where electrical grids, manufacturing machines, and transportation systems are outfitted with embedded sensing, processing, control, and analysis capabilities.

NI technologists are evaluating (and working on the standard) a new standard for Ethernet networking. Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) will evolve Ethernet to provide reliable, remote, and secure access to smart edge devices. One key aspect is the development of edge devices that can combine local control and information filtering such that only important data are transmitted rather than the flood of all data.

From the Trend Watch paper an explanation of TSN:

TSN: The Time is Now

Industrial suppliers, IT vendors, and silicon providers are collaborating within IEEE 802 and the recently formed AVnu Alliance to update standard Ethernet protocols and provide bounded, low-latency data transfer for time-critical data in IIoT applications.

The AVnu Alliance, working with companies such as Broadcom, Cisco, Intel, and NI, will drive the creation of an interoperable ecosystem through certification, similar to how the Wi-Fi Alliance certifies products and devices to be compatible with the IEEE 802.11 standard. The new TSN standard will provide numerous benefits, including the following:

Bandwidth—Large data sets from advanced sensing applications such as machine vision, 3D scanning, and power analysis can put a strain on network bandwidth. Proprietary Ethernet derivatives commonly used for industrial control today are limited to 100 Mb of bandwidth and half-duplex communication. TSN will embrace standard Ethernet rates and support full-duplex communication.

Security—TSN protects critical control traffic and incorporates top-tier IT security provisions, while segmentation, performance protection, and temporal composability can add multiple levels of defense to the security framework. 

Interoperability—By using standard Ethernet components, TSN can integrate with existing brownfield applications and standard IT traffic to improve ease of use. TSN inherits many features of existing Ethernet, such as HTTP interfaces and web services, which enable the remote diagnostics, visualization, and repair features common in IIoT systems. As an added benefit, leveraging standard Ethernet chipsets drives component cost down by virtue of high-volume, commercial silicon.

Latency and Synchronization—TSN prioritizes the low-latency communication required for fast system response and closed-loop control applications. It can achieve deterministic transfer times on the order of tens of microseconds and time synchronization between nodes down to tens of nanoseconds. To ensure reliable delivery of this time-critical traffic, TSN provides automated configurations for high-reliability data paths, where packets are duplicated and merged to provide lossless path redundancy.

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