Chief Technology Officer
Keysight Technologies, Inc.
Santa Rosa, CA

To travel back 40 years in test and measurement, I reached for the paper equivalent of Doc Brown’s DeLorean: the 1976 Hewlett-Packard Electronic Instruments and Systems Catalog. Flipping through the 576-page book, the product photos told a very “analog” story: many front panels featured knobs, dials, and panel meters. Some included a CRT display, and these were circular in the older models. A few featured numerical LED readouts.

In today’s world, a printed catalog is a quaint idea. Web sites provide 24/7 access to downloadable data sheets and streaming videos about hardware, software, and services — the elements that enable your industry to create new breakthroughs faster and at lower cost.

While many instruments still measure analog voltages and signals, the front panels are decidedly digital: large, full-color displays dominate, and the latest models include a tablet-like, multi-touch interface that’s lightyears beyond knobs, dials, and CRTs.

Behind the touchscreen, instrument hardware is dramatically different. After multiple generations of Moore’s Law, rudimentary microprocessors with a few kilobytes of memory have given way to multicore 64-bit processors and several gigabytes of memory. Some instruments include a built-in PC that can run software that ranges from parametric measurements, to custom demodulation, to system-level electronic design and simulation.

The biggest change, though, is in the block diagram. With the increasing performance of high-speed digitizers and digital signal processors, the IF section has evolved from analog and scalar, to digital and vector — just like the signals and systems aerospace engineers must now measure.

One stunning example of this evolution is a full two-port vector network analyzer that fits in just one PXI slot and covers 300 kHz to 26.5 GHz. In 1976, the equivalent analyzer filled two 19-inch rack-mount boxes that stood 10.5 inches high, weighed 86 pounds, and reached just 1.3 GHz.

Looking to the near horizon, you can expect to see solutions that are increasingly integrated, configurable, and distributed. You’ll have access to faster measurements, better performance, more functionality, and greater convenience. And software for design automation and simulation will continue to become increasingly comprehensive and realistic.

As you continue to journey where “we don’t need roads,” one thing won’t change: the unique contributions of the talented people in our respective organizations. Whenever we work together, the new and emerging hardware and software tools at our disposal will unlock new insights that will continue to transform the aerospace industry for the next 40 years.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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