Friday, March 28, 2008

Digital Radio Mondiale –Digital Radio for the World

Recalling the days of the Ham radio, Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) is a standardized digital radio system for short, medium, and long wave system operating in the sub 30 MHz range with plans to expand up to the 120 MHz range. It was designed to run in the AM broadcast band without conflicting with analog signals.

An Open Source version of it can be downloaded to create your own receiver/transmitter. For Virtual Instrumentation enthusiasts, LabVIEW has been used to develop a DRM system detecting the envelope of the AM signal through sampling. The paper goes on to give a model for managing DRM signals using LabVIEW as a “communications toolkit.”

The University of Illinois has an ECE course focused on pulling data off-the-air. They use LabVIEW among other tools to develop their experiments as DRM is a focus area for them.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Microsoft’s Silverlight Provides Strong Tools for Mobile Phone Applications

With Steve Jobs recent comments on Flash’s inadequacies for the iPhone, Microsoft’s Silverlight takes center stage. For those who don’t know Microsoft’s Silverlight, it is a subset of .Net that provides a browser plug-in generating animation and vector graphics. A rich resource of materials including videos provides startup support. It’s interesting how the developers leverage YouTube videos to provide installation support. Initial reviews are positive on the product and its approach – no need to learn new languages, lower cost to deploy, etc, although mass adoption is still a challenge given the large installed base of Flash and other tools.

The post this week is somewhat short due to a hard disk crash. While key data was backed up, it still takes some time to put everything back together.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Mobile Phone – The Portable Data Collection Device

There are several emerging technology efforts in using the mobile phone platform for data acquisition. Saelig uses the PIC microcontroller to create a 14 channel I/O board for measuring analog and digital signals. It comes with a digital temperature sensor.

Handheld Design offers free software for analyzing data collected with a mobile phone. It works on devices using Microsoft Pocket PC 2003, and provides basic graphs of collected data. They use a series of CompactFlash cards to collect the data.

Pico Technology leverages the mobile phone to upload data. They even have a version of their EnviroMon software running on the iPhone already.

Datastick has a nice campaign on its mobile phone data acquisition product for vibration analysis. They promote their solution with the tag line: “measure, transmit it, and then talk about it. “

The academic world also makes use of the mobile phone. In this paper researchers use the mobile phone to create a gamma ray spectrometer.

Of course physiological data has long been a target of the mobile phone as a data collection device as most people have one and are used to carrying it with them. In this example an Austrian research institute outfits patients with monitoring systems that use the mobile phone for collection, analysis, and transmission.

The mobile phone continues to grow as a platform and while not fully capable as a PC is fast closing the gap between the two not only with increased processor, memory, and display capability, but also by leverage servers through Wi-Fi, and the web.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Apple Ships iPhone SDK—Even More Applications for Virtual Instrumentation

I’m a big fan of the iPhone for several reasons – it’s cool technology. It points the way for follow on technology with its use of the multi-touch screen. It relieved my horrendous carpal tunnel syndrome which my old Nokia phone caused because I had to scrunch up my thumb to press the buttons. Did I mention it’s cool technology?

Like most Apple products, it’s something of a closed system which is why news of an impending release of a SDK for the iPhone comes as welcome news. The rumor mill continues to church on the actual release date, but it should be sometime this week. Currently, there are about 300 applications for the iPhone. Here’s one list that tracks them. Most of these will move to the new SDK from their current Safari browser implementation. The move signals the shift of the iPhone away from being just a phone to becoming more of a mini-computer.

Early reviews from those writing iPhone applications are positive. Unofficial guides currently describe how to use the installer capability to create applications but these will soon be replaced by those leveraging the SDK.

The list of applications coming are already heating up. Here’s one list. as the memory grows and the wireless connections improve in bandwidth, the iPhone becomes another platform for measurement and automation applications. Field testing is an obvious choice given the portability requirements. Also, the smaller the device the easier it is to meet ruggedization requirements. Taking a Dell laptop into true field applications results in horrendously high failure rates. In working with the hardened laptop vendors, I learned that Dell laptops in the field (not just taking it from the office cube to the home office desk but real outdoor applications) results in a 60% failure rate. The mobile phone by comparison is already hardened for mobile applications and has been for years.

Best regards,
Hall T.