Fictional Technology

April 16, 2003
Looking ahead to true leading-edge technologies

When I was a technical sales guy for Allen-Bradley in the 1980s, I introduced "new" technology to my client base and distributors. Trouble is, while the technology was new to all, it was already dated.

It's not like I told them about a new technology that would change the way they do things. It was more like, here is a new device called a PLC, and this is how you can use it.

Being behind the development curve has its benefits, but how do we get in front of the curve if we want to? And why would we? As I mentioned last month, Wonderware showed us some reasons why. This time we'll consider the notion that new technology can be anticipated in design.

I read at (an online newsletter for computer geeks) that the new thing during the next four to 15 years will be the separation of the business logic from the application code. Where does any of this forward-looking, think-tank stuff happen for our industry? As I said last month, I would submit that it doesn't.

I did some research and came up with some new technologies and/or products that are not widely available right now, but should already have some impact on our designs.

We'll base our findings on preparatory design criteria. This is to say that you know you will employ a certain technology when it arrives or matures, and your current design is flexible enough to take that into account.

* Microsoft's personal object technology was introduced at Comdex on January 10. It allows for various components that have wireless intelligence built in. The concept isn't new, but the technology to make it happen is. Take this intelligence, add some widespread use, and voila--developer tools, utilities, and add-ons will pop up everywhere.

* Wireless is everywhere, and that includes Bluetooth. A new five-minute design solution for Bluetooth products has been developed. How that will affect the products we use is unclear, but handhelds will play into this. Regardless of the mode (802.11a/b, etc.), be prepared. We have to be careful of bandwidth appetite in our designs, though.

* Wireless cameras can provide a huge advantage for remote troubleshooting. Make sense? They can be web servers, as well.

* Push technology should invade all aspects of design. Getting data in front of people who need it is where it's at. Why should an operator check a display to see if a problem exists? Just tell him when there is one. This can spell the end of the normal HMI market.

* Wireless earpieces can replace the visual screen. It's getting interesting. Voice recognition is getting big funding, so maybe this could be used.

* I'm not sure you can say that mobility is a technology, but in any case, your designs need to be extensible to meet the mobility needs of its users.

* If you knew that your mechanical drawings could produce the control code, would you change the fundamental way you create those drawings? Each mechanical object has an API, and connection points are within a software environment. Yikes! I might be out of a job in 10 years, maybe sooner. This technology exists, but is not mainstream.

I found an abstract of a paper by Charles Knobloch called "Project Management for Something Not Yet Invented." Knobloch is a patent attorney with a degree in computer science, and former Conoco tech guru. It describes the existence of a "hole" between innovation and commercialization. We get the stuff after it's crossed the chasm. Rarely do we deal with the other side, unless we, ourselves, create the innovation. The difference is a vision of the created future, and not the discovered future.

As I hunted and gathered for this column, I couldn't find any "products" that were new. My idea was to find and create reasons for using upcoming technologies without really knowing what products and solutions could be formed.

It wasn't easy to find stuff. Sure, nanotechnology is big, but what's in it for us? Five to 10 years out, maybe, but two years from now? I don't think so.

I did find an archive of an article by PLC Granddad Dick Morley. The key phrase: "A successful product must meet future needs." I take our industry to task because it seems our idea of a successful product is one that sells today. Period.

Find and read Sun Microsystems technology leader Bill Joy's "Why the Future Won't Need Us." We'll discuss.

Jeremy can be contacted through his web site:

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