Star Trek-Like Operator Interface Devices

Develop, Meet and Explore New Technological Advances of the Future

By Katherine Bonfante

Last night I was browsing my social media news feed when I came upon the best news ever — for Trekkies that is. "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is having an official 25th Anniversary convention in Chicago this May. I can't wait to participate in the convention and see my fellow Trekkies dressed in TNG uniforms, carrying communicators, tricorders, universal translators, and talking about replicators, warp drive, the holodeck and cloaking devices.

SEE ALSO: Top Technology Trends of the Future Unveiled

Being around futuristic technology is exciting, even if it is just science fiction. But if you think about it, we are not far from realizing such advances. Just a few generations back there were no computers, cellphones, tablets or electric cars. I hope that in the near future we can scan people with tricorders, help the visually impaired see the world with visors and travel great distances by transporting from point A to point B in milliseconds.

For machine builders and system integrators, handheld operator interface (OI) devices are like Star Trek's tricorders. Our industry uses handheld OIs to monitor, manage and control the machines and the processes that make industry work.

Our article "Do Handheld OIs Make Sense?" posed a question from one of our readers. He wanted to know if anyone in the industry had made the switch from machines that came with their own operator interface with in-line functions, to wireless or plug-in handheld OIs. Our reader also wondered if the switch offered any cost-saving benefits.

Some of the responses we published from our panel of experts suggested that using a tablet or a PDA would be better and cost-effective.

Executive Editor Jim Montague also wrote about OIs in his article "OIs Eye Tablets, Smart Phones." Montague said that wireless, commercial gadgets like tablets were getting smarter and easier to use, but this was still a technology not suitable for the plant floors and industrial machines.

Montague said wireless devices need to be designed for dirty, wet, harsh and hazardous manufacturing settings before they could be widely introduced to our machine builder arena. Nevertheless, he believes that handheld OIs could borrow many of the Apple-like functions and be used in non-hazardous, manufacturing facilities. Read this article to learn more about the Apple-like functions OIs already have and how some suppliers currently use this technology on plant floors.

In 2003, we also wrote the article "Wither Wireless OI?" that looked back at how technology for handheld machine monitoring applications has been around for years. Vendors and end users on the process industries side of automation have been using the technology, yet, at the time our article was published, machine builders were staying away from it. Why? Read the article to find out.

For now, I'll get my TNG uniform ready for the convention, and I hope that many of our machine builders and system integrators come too. Let's meet and explore strange new technological worlds. Let's use our imaginations and skills to develop the technology that will take us where no one has gone before.

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