Taking the plunge

April 3, 2019

Innumerable articles, blogs, and papers have been written on the rapid pace of technology evolution over the past 40 years. And: vast numbers of consumers and businesses have read those articles and asked themselves “Is it time to upgrade to the new technology?”  or “Should I take the plunge?” 

Mainframe vs PC, 35mm film vs digital, landline vs mobile only, CRT vs flat-panel, VHS vs DVD, incandescent vs CFL vs LED, gas vs hybrid vs electric, horse-and-buggy vs horseless carriage.  We may laugh at some of these choices now, but they all represent major technology shifts that took time to gain broad acceptance until, ultimately, the choice was mandated by the market. 

Three key factors

Ultimately, there are three key factors when deciding to ‘take the plunge’:

Benefits & Risks: The first question we all ask when faced with new technology is: how does this benefit me? Does it offer me benefits in the form of smaller/cheaper/faster/better/higher-resolution/more accurate/more eco-friendly/easier to use/etc.?  And what are the risks?

  1. Price: Once we have identified the personal or business benefits, we must weigh these against the cost.  Some technologies have a significant ‘early adopter premium’ where early consumers pay high prices before the technology gains widespread acceptance.  Each business must watch the market to gauge when the cost aligns with the benefits.
  1. Compatibility: While closely tied into the benefit vs cost equation, I separated this out because it can be a subtle factor that is easily overlooked and yet can have significant consequences.   When evaluating new technology, we must ask both backward-looking and forward-looking questions. Does this new technology fit with my existing systems and/or provide an easy migration path from what I’m using today?  And: will this technology continue to be relevant 10-15 years into the future?  

Abaco recently announced our new Thunderbolt 3-equipped line of avionics products.  We are excited to be one of the first to bring this technology to market, coupled with 1553 and ARINC devices. 

Stacking up

So: how does Thunderbolt 3 stack up to the criteria above? 

First: Thunderbolt 3 delivers high speeds and low latency comparable to bus-based technology - in the convenience of an external peripheral.  Older alternatives, including USB 2.0 and older serial interfaces, are widely available but lack the performance to support modern, real-time data collection and some dataloading applications.  Their slower speeds also limit the density of connections possible on peripherals. 

Second: Thunderbolt 3 uses the same physical connectors as USB-C - connectors that are widely used on mobile devices, which is an extremely cost-sensitive, high volume market. This means that, while Thunderbolt 3 may be new to avionics applications, the risk and cost are low. 

Third, and possibly most compelling: the question of compatibility.  Over the years, Abaco has offered a range of portable avionics devices including PCMCIA cards, ExpressCards, and USB-connected devices.  The Thunderbolt 3 implementation, which extends the proven PCI Express bus to the peripheral device, is 100% backwards compatible with existing software and drivers.   No software changes required.

Looking forward, Thunderbolt 3 is an easy choice too.  PCMCIA and ExpressCards slots are not available on the latest generation laptops - and even USB 2.0 ports are going away.  The latest laptops and PCs are converging on USB-C connectors with Thunderbolt 3 for high performance peripherals.  With Thunderbolt 3, Abaco is ready to support our avionics customers today and into the future.    

We look forward to introducing our new Thunderbolt 3-enabled products to you.  Come on in!

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!