A new lease of life

In the early days of computer programming, engineers wrestled with the complexities of programming in assembly language. They didn’t have much of a choice and, because of that fact, developing a system using microprocessor-based technology lay in the hands of a limited number of engineers with the necessary expertise.

Then, along came a plethora of higher level-languages and, suddenly, programming became a whole lot easier. The result was that an increasing number of engineers discovered that they too could program systems efficiently and effectively.

Today, of course, it’s easier still. All due to the fact that graphical programming environments now allow engineers and scientists to develop sophisticated measurement, test and control systems using intuitive graphical icons and wires to build software that resembles a flowchart that they can then deploy in a very short period of time.

The folks that developed such tools have made a fortune by doing so. But when one analyses what they actually did, one can see that their modus operandi was pretty straightforward. They simply identified the problems that engineers faced in their daily lives with existing technology and decided to do something about it.

And what they did through the development of such graphical programming environments was to make it easier for a much larger number of engineers to adopt the latest hardware technology without spending hours learning how to do so.

While microprocessor-based systems might be a relatively recent addition to the engineering scene, technologies don’t have to be new to be useful. Indeed, one only has to look around the home or the office to see that there are a number of systems based on technologies dating back over 100 years that are still fulfilling their promise to make life easier for those that use them.

Nevertheless, there are a number of instances where good, technologically sound ideas never made it into wider use – either commercially or in an industrial setting. It wasn’t because the ideas behind them weren’t all that innovative or useful. No, they simply weren’t embraced on a wide enough scale because − like the first generation computer hardware − they appeared too complex to deploy in a new product or system.

Because of that, there are still a lot of opportunities for engineers to develop new toolkits – either hardware or software based – that could allow design engineers to embrace other, older technologies that may have been gathering cobwebs over the past 50 years, simply because today they are neither easily accessible nor readily deployable.

What is more, there are plenty of such technologies around too. One only has too look back through the US or UK patent database to discover what they are.

So if you are looking for a new market opportunity for your company in the new year, perhaps it might be time to look back into the archive of older unexploited technology and develop some tools to make it easier for other engineers to give those older ideas a new lease of life.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Electronicstalk

Dave’s comments form part of the weekly Electronicstalk newsletter, which also includes a round-up of the latest electronic products and services for engineers. To subscribe click here