A different kind of USB scope GUI - Embedded.com

A different kind of USB scope GUI


We need a new way to interact with those inexpensive USB scopes and logic analyzers.

I've evaluated many small USB scopes and logic analyzers over the years (most recently the Logic16). These devices are generally pocket sized, very inexpensive, offer a lot of functionality for the money, and use your PC for the user interface. Most have beautiful screens.

But I'm not a fan of screen-based controls. Obviously, one saves a ton of money by leveraging the PC's resources, but it is frustrating to have to grab a mouse and then carefully move a virtual control to change a channel's vertical resolution or fiddle with the triggering or time base. You just can't beat a stand-alone instrument for ease of use when holding two probes in your hands, a third in your mouth, and another between two toes. Somehow one manages to just barely nudge that vertical control with the knuckles or nose. The PC interface is far less amenable in those circumstances.

Owning an iPhone and iPad, I find myself occasionally trying the two-finger squeeze on my four-year old MacBook when using one of these USB instruments. One quickly gets used to new interfaces and it's a bit jarring when the Mac doesn't respond to touch commands.

While at Best Buy the other day, trying to avoid the 18-year-old salespeople, I looked at a variety of PCs with touch screens. The screens worked surprisingly well. Clearly touch and gesture (see my comments about Microchip's GestIC) will dominate over the next few years.

When will the USB instrument folks provide a touch-screen interface? I envision one with large controls that can be activated by the crudest of motions for those times all four limbs are holding probes. A little nose action could move a vertical gain slider up or down; a brush of the elbow changes the time/division.

What about voice activation? That might be even better than the UI provided by a bench scope. “Scope: trigger at 2.4 volts.” “Scope: 20 msec/division.” It might be hard to choke out an intelligible command with a X10 in your mouth, but perhaps a grunt filter could translate. Just a few days ago my assistant had to stand over my bench and punch the “single sweep” button when I asked because my hands were balancing three probes; it sure would have been nice to just command “Scope: single sweep.”

The instruments would need addresses of course, so in a lab full of engineers Joe's commands won't drive Bob's scope.

Shortly after saving this article to disk, an email arrived from the NSA. They seem to know my Agilent's IP address, and wrote that if I say “NSA: single sweep” near the PC's mike they'll take care of it for me.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded developmentissues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companieswith their embedded challenges, and works as an expert witness onembedded issues. Contact him at . His website is.

17 thoughts on “A different kind of USB scope GUI

  1. We had an early HP digital scope with nice big buttons that were easily pressed by the eraser end of a pencil held in your mouth. Frequently used it for single-sweep, or start/stop capture.

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  2. I have been working on a little project to convert a collection of panel rotary encoders to short-cut keys to my PicoScope (via USB), since knobs on a scope worked just fine…

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  3. It irritates me when the EE makes the development board the final form factor size, leaving off the headers I can clip a probe to. And – with surface mount, it takes real skill to solder on a blue wire on a fine-pitched lead (or J-lead//BGA) to attach the

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  4. It's a cool idea but also a possible source of confusion; it reminds me of the old prank from the days when Apple Macs first got voice commands. Imagine a college library room full of weary students finishing their term papers and the prankster who walks i

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  5. I really, really, completely agree with your view. Graphic interfaces like LabView and likes are fine… showing stuff. For real time parameter setting, not so. I have been thinking for while in build a modular/generic/real button and dial interface to my

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  6. Hi Jack, Thanks for the article. I've been using the Logic16 for our development and it has performed excellently for me.

    Now I am in the market for a USB scope, do you have any recommendations?

    I have been considering the Red Pitaya project on Kicksta

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  7. Jack I agree with you. Along with the possibility of voice are other natural interfaces. You could use your eyes to control and click on your trigger. It might have a hard time if you develop a twitch or a tick from debug frustration. I am using these

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  8. My Nexus 10 has USB, touch, and voice control. Maybe they could write an app? You can get USB audio mixers and cross-faders – basically USB controlled knobs starting at less than 50 euros. If you want an L.A. with knobs on then there's a project …

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  9. Where are the days when scope probes had a small button to trigger the single sweep, or start an other pre-selected action? This feature could easily be added again on the USB scopes.

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  10. Will touchscreen be surpassed by mind control?
    Imagine if we wouldn't have the need for using our hands, our feet or not even our voice… imagine a scope which is sold together with a head-band… a mental control head-band that is…


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  11. Even just a remote run/stop button would be a huge step up from where we are now.

    I once found myself using both hands to hold probes in place and using a pencil in my mouth to press the run/stop button.

    A voice UI could work, but only if it works well.

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  12. We've used the Saleae Logic when testing and developing several systems for our MSP430 design customers at http://www.argenox.com. It works great. I realize Jack prefers standalone instruments, and so do we, but the ease of scrolling from seconds to microseconds

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  13. Jack, have you considered getting an apprentice? If I were just starting out in embedded systems today, I would jump at the chance to watch and help you work. After a few days, a good apprentice would begin to anticipate your needs and you wouldn't even ne

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