Hot Tech 2015: Test instruments go faceless

Martin Rowe

December 02, 2014

Martin RoweDecember 02, 2014

This article is part of EDN, Embedded.com and EE Times’ Hot Technologies: Looking ahead to 2015 feature, where our editors examine some of the hot trends and technologies in 2014 that promise to shape technology news in 2015 and beyond.

For many years, engineers have used what we once called "PC-based test instruments" that required an external computer. Indeed, computer-based instruments have even used the now-extinct parallel port as a communications bus. Plus, engineers have been developing custom user interfaces for automated test systems for years and we've had USB and Ethernet-based oscilloscopes, data- acquisition systems, audio analyzers, and other instruments for years as well, so why does 2014 stand out?

2014 is the year that "faceless" test instruments migrated in earnest from the production floor to the test bench or even to the engineer's office. In particular, RF test equipment in the form of spectrum analyzers and signal analyzers. The trend became rather clear at IMS 2014 where companies such as Anritsu, Copper Mountain, Rohde & Schwarz and Signal Hound demonstrated instruments such as spectrum analyzers and VNAs (vector network analyzers).

PXI-based RF and wireless testers from Keysight Technologies and National Instruments also made appearances at IMS. In November, Tektronix joined the faceless RF instrument club with its handheld RSA306 USB spectrum analyzer. Other faceless instruments such as the Audio Precision APx555 audio analyzer and VirtualBench from National Instruments also appeared in 2014.

Why have so many bench instruments, especially RF instruments, suddenly appeared?

To read more of this external content, go to "Faceless test instruments see the light.

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