National Instruments annual get together is just recently over. It was awesome, as always. Lots of really cool demonstrations of the technology, lots of new technology to talk about.
Generally, I think of large companies in terms of their market share and whether or not there is future growth potential. Before NI Week I might have entertained the notion that NI has pretty well hit it’s stride as the premier technology company in the instrumentation field. Not sure I want to take that position after having heard and seen what was there.
One aspect is the emergence of “cyber physical systems” to describe a larger universe of applications which require computation, communication and control. This definition is intentionally broad to allow the most general description of how the digital world merges with the real world. To borrow Dr. Truchard’s example, a cellphone with a time of day application is a virtual emulation of a watch in the real world. The parallel is obvious but the implications with regard to how things will operate in the future is not.
According to the German Academy of Science and Engineering we are entering the 4th Industrial Revolution in which information technology and control systems are merging into one whole system in which as computing and communication costs continue to fall, all real work operations are mirrored in virtual environments. These virtual systems can be monitored in real time and have the ability to accept changes from any source.
In the back of my mind is the question “Is there ever a case where control is not control?” What I mean is, if you’re controlling the CERN particle accelerator or a 6 axis robot on a factory floor that loads and unloads a CNC making parts, is there any real difference? Yes, or course, there are issues of time and scale effect of the number of inputs and outputs. But at the end of the day we are looking at a stream of incoming information and applying a set of rules, regardless of how complex, to do something meaningful with the information. So in the case of the particle accelerator, we want to perform physics experiments and in the case of the robot we want to load and unload parts. In each case we want to do these things correctly.
The software used to define each of these tasks may be different, but at the end of the day, its all the same.
Or is it?