Todd Walter, Industrial Measurement and Control Group Manager for National Instruments, is hot for PACs. That is, Programmable Automation Controllers, which NI makes, as do Rockwell (Contrologix) and many others. Todd, who as Shari Worthington commented looks far too young for his job, calls the PAC the next wave of automation controllers. PACs combine the best of the worlds of the PLC and the PC, and the power of embedded computing’s FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays). He pointed out that Labview is optimized for programming FPGAs, and allows non-programmers to design custom systems built around them.
His really hot example was the table saw. The high speed of response time of the FPGA (to 40 MHz and higher) allows for a whole new range of specialized applications. His video, which came from www.sawstop.com, shows how a high speed PAC using FPGAs can be used to safety stop a table saw blade without cutting off fingers.Click here to see the video. (And since I am typing with nine fingers as the result of a table saw accident in 1961, that one comes really close to home.)
The advantage is that with FPGA architecture you don’t have to be a chip designer. Then, if you want to high volume replicate the FPGA, you can turn to Honeywell or one of the other ASIC houses to convert your FPGA to an ASIC. And all without knowing how to design silicon.