In younger days the word “test” could evoke feelings of dread or panic. Test, as entailed in modern manufacturing is both critical and potentially costly, but it doesn’t have to take you back to reciting Presidents and their veeps from memory. In the “Test of time”, hardware defined test is increasingly being replaced by software defined test.
Old-school test was defined by the hardware, relatively fixed feature sets with knobs, buttons and limited viewing / reporting capabilities. Dedicated box instruments allowed for tethered instrument control. The practical role of software was minor (offering a generic, text based development environment), as the user interface was for all intents fixed by the vendor. Making investments in traditional test instruments were rightly seen as substantial long term commitments. With traditional systems, testing newly added product features could significantly complicate and lengthen the process because of its fixed nature of being hardware defined. New instruments, time to test, time to manipulate vendor defined reporting into user desired formatting and finally time to market certainly add up to significant costs.
Software defined test is necessary as consumers continually demand newer, better products. Test engineers are challenged to find more flexible, modular solutions to lowering the total cost of test. Software defined test systems can make use of test management software to safeguard requirements and document changes. Today, graphical as well as text based application development environments are optimized for test and engineering calculations. This gives test engineers the ability to provide user-defined measurements, analysis and presentation. Still today, test hardware is a substantial long term investment. Systems that take advantage of modular I/O in a compact system and use integrated high-speed data buses with integrated timing and synchronization will be best positioned to stand the test of time. Software defined, or perhaps more appropriately, user defined test systems provide critical flexibility.
Some of the more exciting aspects of software defined test lay outside of the traditional QA / production testing areas. Software defined test can also help the product development group unlock insights to next generation offerings. Software defined test can aid R&D in flushing out new features and capabilities and then scales up to production in ways that traditional test systems just couldn’t keep up. Software defined test can make the necessary changes and stand the test of time.
– John Gleason