USB: More Than An Idea:
Ten years ago, a USB Solution was merely a concept tossed around in boardroom meetings for the test and measurement industry. The idea of creating a solution that simplified the traditional sensing platform was a fleet not many manufacturers were willing to undertake. However, FUTEK wanted to make this concept a reality. And so, at the start of 2008, FUTEK’s journey into USB integration began.
Prior to USB, traditional sensing systems consisted of a sensor, an amplifier, a power supply, a data acquisition system and software, on occasion a filter, and then a PC to house the data. With these multiple components, users assumed that this measurement platform would be fail proof in computing and collecting the data they required. Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly the case.
Though traditional platforms are suitable for most test-measurement applications, they carry a laundry list of “side effects” with them. Cost, space, noise, accuracy, convenience, and temperature co-efficiency all become variables within that traditional setup. What the industry needed was a fast data exchange solution that wouldn’t be phased by such “side effects.” And there lied the answer, a single unit solution – the USB module.
FUTEK’s Development & Design Undertaking:
Under the direction of Electrical Engineer Babak Fard Moghaddam, FUTEK quickly moved into a deep period of research, design, and prototyping. The outcome: the USB100. The idea was simple: to offer a USB board that could sit within the sensor and offer digital output. FUTEK’s USB100 did just that. Given the proper space, any non-amplified strain gauge sensor offered by FUTEK could integrate the USB100 board. This design established that USB solutions did in fact drastically decrease the side effects carried by the traditional sensing solution. Utilizing a digital medium meant that the device itself would be immune to noise interruptions. The digitalization of USB technology also steadily leveled the temperature co-efficiency that otherwise could effect the data output. Now, using the PC as its main power supply, space constraints due to multiple components need not be a challenge; and as a result, cost became more agreeable for a single unit device rather than several operating systems. Overall, the benefits of this new USB Solution heavily exceeded the existing solution platform. And so, during the summer for 2008, the first four pieces of FUTEK’s USB100 were shipped.
The USB100, an internal USB device, sparked a wave of interest with its 5 samples per second collection rate and 16 Bit resolution. Realizing that this conceptual and practical USB Solution established a firm reassurance that USB technology was more than adept in replacing traditional test-measurement platforms, Moghaddam developed the USB210, an external USB module for non-amplified strain gauge sensor applications. Released in December 2008, the USB210 showed higher specifications in comparison to the USB100 with a sample rate of 1,000 per second and a 24 Bit resolution. The improved accuracy of this model became most advantageous for users needing results down to the milligram.
FUTEK concluded 2008 knowing that their advancements with USB technology would not cease. Moghaddam had plans to increase their performance and expand their uses to meet the needs of many more sensor applications. Talk of higher sampling rates, better resolution, and multiple channels were goals to still be met.
In 2009, FUTEK proceeded with the design and development of two additional external USB modules: the USB220 and the USB230. After extensive field testing, the improved models were released in limited scale in 2010 and full commercial scale in 2011. Both of these models achieved FUTEK’s goals of improved accuracy and higher sampling rates for non-amplified strain gauge sensors. The USB220 holds a 4,800 sample per second rate and a 24 Bit resolution, while the USB230 reaches 15,000 samples per second rate at a 24 Bit resolution.
The Future For USB Technology:
Over the past two years, FUTEK has shipped over 1,000 USB units internationally to assist in strain gauge measurement applications. And though all FUTEK sensors are now compatible with their USB Solutions, they don’t plan to stop their expansion with USB technology.
This past year, FUTEK release yet another internal USB Solution: the USB110. This unit shares the same specifications as the USB210, aside from the form itself. And with five USB Solutions on the market to date, FUTEK is persistent with moving forward in USB design by releasing three additional developments at the close of 2011.
In post-production are the USB240, the USB320 and the USB410. The USB320 design targets customers who wish adapt USB technology to their amplified sensors applications. This model possesses the same specifications as the USB220, including the 4,800 samples per second and 24 Bit resolution. Now, the USB410 is a unique design supporting rotary torque sensor applications. The intent behind the USB410 is to combine a hardware and software that can measure the two-power-signal outputs of rotary torque sensors seamlessly. Thus, with the USB410, measurements of angle, speed and direction will be streamed and cataloged instantaneously without manual mathematical computations. Lastly Moghaddam developed the USB240, which is a four-channel version of the existing USB220.
The road to USB integration has been long and could have very well ended when FUTEK developed a solution for each of their respective sensor lines, but it didn’t. Their goal from the start was to create a solution that ambitiously rivaled the traditional data acquisition setup no matter the application requirements. And they plan to accomplish that goal. Research, design and development will continue for FUTEK’s Electrical Engineering team, and more modules will be released. That is, all in a matter of time.
USB Within the Industry:
But now the question is, why does this all matter? Quite frankly, FUTEK is among the first in the test and measurement industry to embark upon utilizing USB technology to simplify data retrieval and collection. This concept may seem ordinary in relation to the current progression of standardized business, but it isn’t. It is actually quite groundbreaking and green. The majority of FUTEK’s B2B market has yet to be introduced to the notion that USB output exists for test-measurement applications.
USB Technology, within this industry, will soon set the precedent for speed and ease in data compilation. And as noted above, there has already been immense success with the devices FUTEK has produced thus far. More and more manufacturers will follow suit and begin to sell USB Solutions alongside their respective sensor devices. However, unlike those other manufacturer, FUTEK vows to continue to design, develop, and produce their USB modules in-house. They believe the best practice of customer support is for USB users to bring their questions regarding the software and/or design directly to those whose hands have actually crafted the product.
What it boils down to is that FUTEK wishes to keep the same level of integrity use in designing the USB Solutions with their USB technical support. They have formulated a culture based on quality and reliability, and that applies to both the design aspect of their sensors and instruments, as well as their customer service and technical support. Thus, the benefits of this technology heavily outweigh the possible “ifs, ands, or buts” associated with its newness. Industry competitors may find it risky that FUTEK jumped into a raw and new data exchange solution, but to be honest, FUTEK is simply a forward thinking company. USB is the future for the test and measurement industry, and FUTEK plans to carry their customers into that future.
For more information regarding FUTEK’s USB Technology, please visit: www.futek.com/usb