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Understanding HMI: Taking closer look at recent trends

Posted: 01 Jun 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FTDI Chip? human machine interface? HMI? microcontroller?

Looking at the present state of electronics hardware, touch-enabled human machine interfaces (HMIs) are being used to offer a more intuitive and natural means to interact. This stands in stark contrast to using traditional electromechanical switches and push buttons. Suffice to say, HMIs deliver more enjoyable and streamlined user experience.

They are now employed almost universally in consumer electronics products and new opportunities are emerging all the time for their inclusion inside a broad spectrum of other system designs, including retail, medical, home automation, industrial control and white goods.

Though generally the HMIs for portable consumer products can be considered as simply standalone in nature, there are a great many situations elsewhere that are in need of multiple units being interfaced together to create a more comprehensive system. This article will look at some examples of applications in which this sort of HMI structure is warranted.

There are a plethora of potential everyday scenarios that will see major benefits from the coupling together of HMIs, in such a way that there is a consistency between what is displayed on each. Through this the data being input at one HMI will be easy to comprehend by whoever is operating/viewing another HMI to which it has been connected.

Arrangements are likely to vary, in certain cases these HMIs will be have a peer-to-peer topology, while in others there will be multiple units all connected to one another through a central server. For instance, in the retail sector, shoppers would be able to select the merchandise they want to buy from a store utilising a point-of sale unit.

This information could then be fed back to the warehouse so that these items could be made ready for collection. Likewise, in a restaurant touch panels could be embedded into each of the tables. Through these the customers could choose the food and beverages they would like to order and this data would subsequently be transferred to the corresponding display located in the kitchen. In home automation, it could also be of value, allowing the occupant to the set temperature in one room with the information being made available on each of the display units within the network.

So, given that there are already a multitude of possible opportunities for assemblies of this kind, why hasn't this really been done before? The answer, at least partially, lies in the fact that the HMI systems currently in place are often too complex and costly to make it economically and operationally viable. However, things are changing, recent developments in the supporting semiconductor technology could have major implications on how engineers think about HMI construction in the future.

The changing face of HMI implementation

HMI systems will normally have a structure similar to the one below. Here a high performance (16bit or 32bit) microcontroller unit is responsible for creating and manipulating of the graphics that are rendered on the display. Alongside it there is a sizeable non-volatile memory resource in which all of these graphics are stored, plus a capacious frame buffer which is needed for graphics processing purposes and a series of wide data buses for carrying out communication between these devices.

Conventional HMI

Conventional system for a touch-enabled HMI.

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