Saturday, September 25, 2010

Innovative Way to Interface a Measurement Instrument with a Computer

In this post I am taking a turn from the usual. Typically when I praise a new product it is an Agilent product. Here I am going to lay some praise on an innovative new NI product, USB-TC01 Thermocouple Measurement Device. The innovation in this device is not the measurement technology but the way it interfaces with a computer allowing you to easily retrieve data. Typically interfacing a measurement instrument with a computer and retrieving measurement data from it involves either installing software (that you may have to pay for) or installing drivers and creating your own software. The clever USB_TC01 requires no drivers and no software! The way it works is by connecting to your computer via USB. To Windows the TC01 appears as a mounted disk drive (so no driver). By navigating to the now mounted TC01 “drive” you can launch software that is stored on the TC01. The software allows you to display readings, log readings, and download readings. It also has extras that make it easy to interface with LabView. Pretty cool functionality for a mere $129 price tag.
The technology is similar to the LXI instrument connection standard (to learn more about LXI click here). An LXI compliant instrument acts like a web server so you can connect it to a computer via LAN. The difference between LXI and the TC01 is LXI does require software (web browser which everyone already has), you need to know the instrument’s IP address or host name, and the LXI standard only requires instrument manufacturers to put network setting control in the web interface and not instrument control. Although most LXI instrument manufacturers, like Agilent, allow you to control and retrieve data from the instrument via the web interface.