HMI Everywhere

There's a Difference Between Monitoring and Interacting or Controlling. Effective Control Requires an HMI

By Ian Verhappen

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Last month, I talked about how RFID and IPv6 make “lick-‘n-stick” sensors possible, driving the adoption of real-time measurements, such as energy usage, in the consumer market. Though not yet mainstream, there are simple sensor products on the market today that allow you to remotely monitor conditions in such places as a boat, a hot tub, pool or other parts of your home, including your IP-based security systems, over your smart phone or tablet. (See Opto22's Groov—ed.)

However, there is a difference between monitoring and interacting or controlling. Effective control requires an HMI. Now that most HMIs are web-based, the power of open standards is once again being demonstrated in the industrial sector.

The critical open standards defining today's web browser are continuing to evolve with development and adoption of revised standards, such as CSS3, SVG and HTML5, that support scalable graphics in any browser, solving an important piece of the future HMI puzzle.

Also Read: Best Practices in High-Performance HMI Design

What will these new standards bring to the scalable HMI equation?

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a style sheet language used for describing the look and formatting (presentation semantics) of a document written in a markup language. Its most common application is to style web pages written in HTML or XHTML, but it can also be applied to any kind of XML document.

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an XML-based vector image format for two-dimensional graphics that includes support for interactivity and animation. SVG defines the image's behavior in an XML text file.

HTML5, as the name implies, is the fifth generation of HyperText Markup Language (HTML) used for structuring and presenting content for web pages. HTML5 is intended to subsume not only HTML4, but also XHTML (eXtensible HTML) 1.1 and Document Object Model (DOM) Level 2 HTML.

HTML5 includes detailed processing models to encourage more interoperable implementations. Many features of HTML5 have been built to run on low-powered devices such as smart phones and tablets.

In particular, HTML5 adds many new syntactic features designed to make it easy to include and handle multimedia and graphical content on the Web without having to resort to proprietary plugins and APIs. Other new elements are designed to enrich the semantic content of documents. HTML5 also defines in some detail the required processing for invalid documents, so that syntax errors will be treated uniformly by all conforming browsers and other user agents.

A recent ARC report cites nine automation industry technologies to watch. These are intelligent devices and the Internet of Things; predictive analytics for big data; cloud computing and services-based solutions; virtualization; 3D simulation and augmented reality; mobility-enabled applications and “wearable” technologies; bring your own devices (BYOD); remote operations/asset management; and additive manufacturing/3D printing.

Notice that all of these imply more openness, tighter integration of control and business networks, and access to any data, anywhere, anytime. To deliver on this promise obviously requires security and, I believe, the associated move to HMI on a broad range of platforms (BYOD). Moving to smaller screen sizes makes following principles of high-performance HMIs more important than ever.

The recent announcements by Apple of its new iPhones and the unveiling by Samsung of the Galaxy Gear smart watch reinforce how easy it is for us to always remain connected and to access the Internet, thus increasing the pressure to further open the enterprise to beam us data on demand when, where and how we want it.

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