Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD
It is a fascinating time to be in the electronic engineering industry, especially in the power sector, as society moves forward into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This promises to be the last, barring the takeover of industry by intelligent robots, as all of the parts are in place and the core technologies have been developed for connected intelligent devices, cars, homes, factories, villages, and cities.
The creation of the Cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) involves far more than just getting everyone’s smart phone to control their house lighting and having remote devices connect to one another. It will eventually bring together every powered device into an intelligent network where device functionality and performance will be monitored and managed by remote interconnected infrastructures.
What this means for the electronic engineering industry is that every designer must take into consideration not only the current needs and requirements involved in their product development, but potential future expansion and wider integration into Cloud-based systems. Board-level management must not only extend down to the point of load; it must also extend upwards into the Cloud itself.
One way to look at it is to adopt the term C3I from the military with one small change: command, control, Cloud (for communications), and intelligence. By putting the situation in this perspective, we can make it easier to understand in context. Future systems must be able to accept commands with the ability to control every aspect of their functionality anywhere in the Cloud, while providing monitoring telemetry for system oversight and intelligence.
One day it will be considered ludicrous and primitive for any powered device to exist without some kind of connection to the greater Cloud to enable monitoring and control for purposes ranging from enhanced functionality and efficiency to improved safety and disaster management. Even the largest most basic industrial processes will be as easy to remotely monitor and control as a toy robot from your smart phone.
This is challenging to the power electronics industry, which is still in the throes of integrating basic digital control protocols into power delivery systems at every level. Ensuring that the analog systems involved are optimally designed while the related digital communication and control protocols are properly integrated is just a start. Software is now just as important to the proper operation of a system as the hardware components in it.
It is this integration of hardware and software systems in a way that ensures they have a high level of functionality in an intelligent interconnected environment that will help determine the real winners and losers. This is a challenge that has to be meet by everyone on a product development team, from how the package designers lay out the buttons (real and virtual) to the webmaster responsible for the product’s online user interface. Only a gestalt approach that takes in every facet of a device’s attributes will be able to properly function in a Cloud-based economy.