The 3 technology laws

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.
USA

In the industrial automation business, we should expect that in the future virtually all industrial I/O products and processes would have significantly expanded embedded intelligence and connectivity. Apply the 3 technology laws to see how simple applications will extend automation methods from factory and process controls to a much broader range of applications.

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Automation.com, April 2002

Three laws that are generally accepted as governing the spread of technology:
  • Moore's Law: formulated by Gordon Moore of Intel in the early 70's - the processing power of a microchip doubles every 18 months; corollary, computers become faster and the price of a given level of computing power halves every 18 months.
  • Gilder's Law: proposed by George Gilder, prolific author and prophet of the new technology age - the total bandwidth of communication systems triples every twelve months. New developments seem to confirm that bandwidth availability will continue to expand at a rate that supports Gilder's Law.
  • Metcalfe's Law: attributed to Robert Metcalfe, originator of Ethernet and founder of 3COM: the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes; so, as a network grows, the value of being connected to it grows exponentially, while the cost per user remains the same or even reduces.
Gordon Moore himself predicts that Moore's Law, as applied to integrated circuits, will no longer be applicable after about 2020 - when IC geometry will be about one atom thick. However, recent technology announcements about 3-D silicon, single-atom and spin transistors gives another twenty years of conventional doublings before the electronics limit is reached. Inevitably, other technologies, such as biochips and nanotechnology will come to the forefront to move the equivalent of Moore's Law inexorably forward.

In the past, with telephone modems, bandwidth seemed limited. But, already DSL and cable modems have extended everyday Internet communications to 500 kbps, and the upper limits for optical media broadband communications is clearly following Gilders Law. For mobile applications, third-generation (3G) cell-phone technology is just now being introduced which will allow wireless data interchange at baud-rates at least equivalent to DSL.

As more and more "nodes" become connected products, equipment, people, organizations Metcalfe's Law comes into play. The effectiveness and value of the Internet continues to increase exponentially.

Device Connectivity

The next era of connectivity device connectivity is poised to facilitate true value for end customers. Device networking allows product and service companies to communicate with their products, without the interruption that might be imposed on an end consumer. This allows both the supplier and the customer to benefit significantly.

Imagine any product you know being Internet-enabled an automobile, a house, a washing machine, an office thermostat these all have the potential to be networked. Skeptics think that this kind of "gadgetry" has few practical applications for the user of the product (do I really need to talk to my washing-machine?) But, it's not the consumers that initially have the most to gain from device networking it's the businesses that support them.

Manufacturers will use their connected products to develop customer service relationships that ultimately recreate the nature of revenue growth and customer management in an information economy. Product companies will use device-networking technology to reduce, or even eliminate (for their customers) the hassles of product ownership. This allows the manufacturer to reduce costs, achieve revenue growth, and pursue new opportunity areas. Device networking is not only possible, but also essential.

Automation applications everywhere

In the industrial automation business, we should expect that virtually all industrial I/O products and processes would have significantly expanded embedded intelligence and connectivity. Consider these simple applications that extend automation methods from factory and process controls to a much broader range of applications:

There are hundreds of temperature measurements (coolers, freezers, etc.) in a typical supermarket. Although monitoring and control will provide major cost savings (assuring that the food is not spoiled because coolers have failed, or that energy is not wasted through over-refrigeration) the cost to physically wire the sensors to a central monitoring and control system has hitherto been prohibitive. Low cost wire-less sensors and controls allow quick and easy installation, plus movement of sensors and control points for optimal monitoring and cost-controls.

Another application is supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) for "tank-farms" storage tanks for oils, chemicals and petroleum products that are physically scattered over a large area, perhaps several square-miles. Physically wiring of sensors, level controls, alarms, recorders, etc. is relatively expensive. Internet enabled sensors and controls with wireless connections provide a quick and effective solution.

In many applications like the ones described, once the measurement and control points are collected at a central monitoring hub, it is easy to provide web access for supervisory monitoring and control to be done seamlessly from any Internet connection, located anywhere in the world.

Startling Changes Coming

The combination of the 3 technology laws will soon bring startling changes. Within the next decade many people will have a couple hundred computers embedded in their clothes, communicating through a "personal-area-network" (PAN), with wireless connection to the Internet. Personal intelligence and local effectiveness will be enhanced significantly through effortless connection to the vast resources of the Internet.

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