Oscilloscopes for military and aerospace applications enter the digital age with improved capabilities

Oscilloscopes, devices that measure and display voltage over time, have entered the digital age with new features such as Windows-based software, removable disk drives, and most especially the capability of easy and standardized remote operation over the Internet.

By John Keller

Oscilloscopes, devices that measure and display voltage over time, have entered the digital age with new features such as Windows-based software, removable disk drives, and most especially the capability of easy and standardized remote operation over the Internet.

Digital capabilities of today’s high-end oscilloscopes are of high interest to military, aerospace, and other users who are concerned with data recording and data security, says Lon Hintze, product planning specialist at the Agilent Technologies Design Validation Division in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“One of the things that tend to be unique for military and aerospace users is secure environments, Hintze says. “On our high-end scopes we added removable hard drives, which users can store in a secure vault. We have even done that on some low-end scopes for the aerospace-defense community.”

In addition, the Agilent Infinium series oscilloscopes have internal Flash solid-state data storage, which enables users to wipe the data from them clean to avoid the risk of sensitive data falling into the wrong hands.

In addition, the Agilent Infinium-series oscilloscopes feature Windows-based software to ease the devices control and interoperability with desktop and notebook PCs.

Yet, perhaps one of the most significant digital innovations related to oscilloscopes is the industry standard called Local Area Network (LAN) Extensions for Instrumentation-better known as LXI.

This instrumentation standard, which replaces the General Purpose Interface Bus (GPIB) essentially enables users to assign IP addresses to different oscilloscopes and gain access to the device’s information and readout from anywhere in the world over the Internet.

“A Lockheed Martin or a Raytheon has teams spread all around the globe,” Hintze explains. They may have a remote operator, and experts can be on the phone with the remote operator and have him move a probe, or yank a board. Sometimes hardware design teams are in one place and the software design teams are in another. They can share signals back and forth between software and hardware designers.”

Today there are three key developments driving the oscilloscope market: performance, the ability to accommodate specific applications, and demand for increasing productivity, says Jim Gowgiel, worldwide sales marketing manager for oscilloscopes and accessories at Tektronix Inc. in Beaverton, Ore.

“Performance may not always be at the most high or ultra levels, but that has the most attention,” Gowgiel says. “Users want to be able to measure faster signals in dense and more complex circuitry. The effects in the environment that are casing various problems in electronic designs are causing more problems for the oscilloscope users.”

Demanding new technologies such as high-speed serial networks also are placing demands on high-end oscilloscopes. “We have a wider range of applications, such as high-speed serial standards. Jitter in signals, and analysis of jitter is a critical,” Gowgiel says. “There is a lot of analysis that goes into breaking that jitter down into constituent components, and analyses to find and isolate the causes of the jitter.”

Finally, oscilloscope users are demanding more from their instruments to enhance their productivity on the job. “Engineers want to get the job done more efficiently and more quickly in all areas of the market,” Gowgiel says. “They need to do the job faster, and demands on oscilloscopes are increasing to let users find the anomalies in their designs faster and more efficiently so they can solve the problem.”

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