Technology is everywhere. Better get used to it. Especially in the presence of high powered processors under $1 and System-on-Chip solutions that can cost as little as $10. When tech gets this cheap and powerful, it’s going to enable some unexpected applications.
ARM M-zero processors are 32 bit, 120 megahertz chips that are capable of executing the most sophisticated servo algorithms you can imagine. This chip can manage 2 closed loop axes of inexpensive hobby motors, dc motor drivers, encoders, gearboxes and using gyros and accelerometers with a 100 hertz update rate, create a self balancing mobility platform based on the physics of an inverted pendulum. You can read more at;
The average $100 cellphone today has more computing power and communications capabililty than the most sophisticated $5,000., PLC or PAC the market. Some of the newer designs take advantage of the massive power in the latest generation of Quad Core products from Intel. In a sense we have arrived at a point where the computing power is, for practical purposed, unlimited.
There are some subtle issues here. On the marketing side, it is difficult to differentiate among similar products. Cellphones and tablet computers demonstrate the very fine segmentation of hardware for sale in those product segments. Industrial controls are migrating to the same kinds of hardware, processors, memory, interconnect capability, and communications support.
On the actual product performance side, users have very consistent needs for functionality, and the “tech” only has merit in terms of how it creates functionality that benefits the user. Does the existence of a 120 megahertz, 32 bit ARM processor at $1/unit matter to anyone? Not really.
What matters is that this processor platform makes possible very inexpensive, and very high performance, motion controllers that are cheap enough to be integrated into children’s toys. That also means the next generation of robots can be designed and built for a fraction of today’s selling price. It means that millions of low cost products that have terrible efficiencies can be re-designed, re-imagined, as high efficiency machines and reduce power consumption dramatically across applications that could never have been considered without the introduction of these new control platforms.
It also means that actuators in the near future will be intelligent network devices with the capability to monitor their own performance. Simple electromechanical systems will achieve higher performance in terms of accuracy and reliability due to the ability to operate with inexpensive sensors and controls. They will be able to monitor move by move performance, accuracy, repeatability, thermal loss, friction, you name it.
In spite of gloomy economic predictions, it may turn out to be an interesting decade after all. At least in the controls world.