A human-machine interface is pretty much self-explanatory. The user is typically human. The machine is the device. The human and machine must interface in several technologies such as process control systems and manufacturing.
Today, the automotive industry is giving HMI momentum. Auto manufacturers are designing dashboards with glass touchscreen interfaces to get away from the actual metal and plastic knobs and slide controls—the traditional industrial-looking instrument cluster we grew up using. As criticism mounts that HMI integration can distract drivers, design engineers are developing features such as voice control, proximity detection, haptics, and force detection.
But HMI has broader applications than automotive.
Designers can apply HMI to industrial and building automation, digital signage, vending machine, medical, and appliances. They can be found in portable handheld devices (you might be reading this on a touchscreen smartphone or tablet), centralized control rooms, factory floor machines, and process control areas. They're powered in different ways, have varying microcontrollers and controllers, and come in customizable packages. They need to be durable enough to withstand harsh environments and resist elements, extreme temperatures, and exposure to hazardous chemicals.
To access and display information for users to view, HMIs must communicate with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and input/output sensors. HMIs can optimize an industrial process by digitizing and centralizing data for a viewer. HMI enables data acquisition, supervisory control, enhanced stock control, and control of nearly every aspect of manufacturing lines.
What's next for HMIs? Engineers are exploring ways to implement augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to visualize manufacturing functions. The auto industry is just getting started on its HMI integration. According to the article Global Human Machine Interface Market Growth Opportunities 2021-2025: Growing Adoption of Industrial Automation Drives Growth - ResearchAndMarkets.com the global HMI market is forecast to grow by $2.64 billion (USD) from 2021 to 2025.
In this week's New Tech Tuesdays, we'll look at HMI-associated products from NXP Semiconductors, Microchip Technology, and Phoenix Contact.
NXP Semiconductors’ i.MX RT500 Crossover Microcontrollers are suitable for secure and low-power embedded HMI applications, IoT devices, hearables, and smart consumer devices. The family of dual-core MCUs is based on an Arm® Cortex®-M33 core with a clock speed of up to 200MHz. The MCUs combine a graphics engine and a streamlined Cadence® Tensilica® Fusion F1 DSP core with an Arm® Cortex®-M33 core. The MCUs are built on a foundation of secure boot, debug, and lifecycle management designed to resist remote and software local attacks. The i.MX RT500 provides power control and power management functionalities that allow the device to operate with as little power as possible.
Microchip Technology’s maXTouch® 1066-node Touchscreen Controllers can measure, classify, and track the number of individual touches with accuracy and short response times. The controllers are suitable for automotive, home appliance, medical, and industrial applications. The maXTouch controllers can detect touch through thick gloves (up to 5mm) and glass lenses (up to 10mm) while offering immunity to water and external and display noise. The controllers, which are coupled with a state-of-the-art CPU, use a charge-transfer acquisition engine to use Microchip Technology's patented capacitive sensing method.
Designers will find Phoenix Contact Displays and Keypads easy to customize. These displays are suitable for a broad range of industrial applications, including informational displays in offices and meeting rooms. Designers can also go online to configure individual membrane keypads by adjusting the shape, color, and printing to the desired specifications. The housing designs allow the displays to be integrated flush in the housing fronts.
As users, we deal with HMI applications constantly. If you're reading this on a smartphone, you likely used a touchscreen in the process. Auto manufacturers are advancing the technology with its use in modern dashboards, but they're just getting started.
Tommy Cummings is a freelance writer/editor based in Texas. He's had a journalism career that has spanned more than 40 years. He contributes to Texas Monthly and Oklahoma Today magazines. He's also worked at The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. Tommy worked at Mouser Electronics from 2018 to 2021 as a technical content and product content specialist.
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