Building complex devices is difficult.
As an engineer, you rely on Test and Measurement solutions to understand what is happening inside your devices – electronics, moving mechanisms, software, etc. Imagine you just built your first circuit and it doesn’t work. How do you figure out which part isn’t working like you expected? You can’t simply change stuff until it starts working – you need a test and measurement system.
For decades, the Test and Measurement space was dominated by big and expensive external devices that could capture data from products under test.
When I started my career as an electrical engineer in 1999, our labs were full of oscilloscopes and logic analyzers. This equipment was heavily used by a lot of engineers. If you weren’t good at using these types of devices back then, you were in big trouble.
Yet, the products that we were creating were evolving faster than the tools that we used to test them with. In other words, the Test & Measurement industry wasn’t keeping up with the evolution of the products they are built to test for a large subset of engineers.
Software Will Eat the World
Marc Andreessen once said that “software will eat the world.”
In my 12-year career as an engineer, that’s precisely what I saw. Software “ate” more and more of the products that we created. Smart products included more and more internal software, and I watched the number of software/firmware engineers overtake the number of hardware engineers in my company, as well as my colleagues’ companies.
The Test and Measurement industry was not ready for this.
As we built products with increasingly powerful processors, software and memory, the central role of embedded software grew and grew. All of a sudden, the number of “problems” (open issues) that had to be solved before we could ship our products was dominated by software issues. Those oscilloscopes and logic analyzers weren’t effective tools to find all of those software bugs. Expensive software debuggers were a great solution, but only if you could crack open the product and hook one up.
A common practice was to put software “loggers” to use. You would have software “log” events happening inside the product and then retrieve this log when something went wrong to figure out what happened – similar to an airplane’s black box.
A Shift to Log Files
This concept was a REALLY big hit with engineers, because it was so damn easy to work with.
Oscilloscopes and logic analyzers took too much time to set up. They were confusing, expensive, and quite frankly, scary to a lot of the development engineers. When you are working with a $150,000 prototype, and you blow it up because you stuck a probe in the wrong place, it changes you!
Getting a log file out of a device and reading it was super easy and super fast.
We learned to use log files to diagnose problems, saving us time and frustration.
Around 2007, I noticed how little our oscilloscopes and logic analyzers were getting used. I polled all of the engineers I could find in my company and asked them if they had used an o-scope or logic analyzer in the last year.
Only 4% said yes!
Log files had taken over Test and Measurement for us. We still used o-scopes and logic analyzers, but only when the problem justified the pain of setting one up. We were using log files for the basic stuff, and it was effective.
This was happening everywhere. Engineers were using these big, external T&M devices less and less and relying more and more on software log data anytime they could.
Enter the Next Phase of Test and Measurement
In a world filled with products that simplify our lives with a touch of a button, manually probing inside of products with external devices feels archaic. The engineering masses have shown a big preference for tools that are quick and easy to use. While super easy to use, software logs just cannot provide rich enough data to completely replace those o-scopes and logic analyzers 100% of the time.
What about the area where hardware and software meet? Is that problem keeping you up at night a software bug or a hardware defect? No mass market tool lets you capture and view hardware data and software events simultaneously – a gaping hole in our toolbox.
Enter Moore’s Law.
Silicon real estate keeps getting cheaper. It is now feasible, dare I say practical, to embed test instrumentation directly inside our chips and our products. These embedded instruments have the ability to physically capture hardware signals. Because they sit inside the same piece of silicon as the microprocessor that is executing all of that wonderful software code, these same instruments can also capture software events. These instruments will be your oscilloscope, your logic analyzer, and your software debugger rolled into one and built inside of every product that comes off of the manufacturing line.
How will we connect to and communicate with these super instruments? Enter the Internet of Things. Today, roughly 10 billion devices are connected to the web. By 2020, that number is expected to grow to 212 billion devices. The internet gives us a built-in communication path to our products and to the instrumentation built inside.
Imagine virtually probing inside of your product while it runs in real-time, capturing hardware signals and software events without ever touching the product or interrupting its operation. Imagine data visualizations automatically popping up that help you decipher complex data streams in an instant. Imagine doing this from your phone or tablet and working on a product that sits hundreds of miles away.
This is the future of Test and Measurement.
This revolution has started. There are tools out there that do just this, but they are in their infancy.
Logging-as-a-Service and Log Visualization-as-a-Service platforms will be at the center of the Test and Measurement revolution. Connected devices send their data to a web service where it is processed, and data visualizations are created. Engineers and technicians will mine this data through these platforms to solve problems faster. Debug will move to the cloud, giving engineers the tools they need to effectively build the world’s next generation of products.
The $4 billion Test and Measurement industry is going to explode.
And it will be awesome.