Chips and displays work behind the scenes

  • 30-Jan-2012 02:23 EST
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Microcontrollers, sensors, and plenty of software let TTControls provide more functions that are easier for inexperienced off-highway equipment operators to perform.

Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) have undergone huge changes over the past few years as joysticks provide more functionality, programmable displays provide more data, and switches work in conjunction with software to help operators do many tasks with minimal effort. This transformation has been driven by improvements in a host of technologies including software, displays, and electronics.

Equipment buyers and operators will focus on automated functions such as auto-dig and on-screens and a range of push buttons and control knobs that provide an intuitive control environment that helps operators get more done with less fatigue and fewer errors.

There are a number of technologies that work behind the scenes. Few operators will realize that these benefits come because system designers are implementing powerful microcontrollers that run increasingly complex software or thin film transistor LCDs have improved resolution and lowered costs. Programmable displays are one of the centerpieces.

“Display technologies have come a long way in the past couple years; color displays are cheaper than monochrome, and TFT displays provide good sunlight readability,” said Michael Stoeckel, Global Product Line Manager-Distribution at Maxima Technologies & Systems. “Real-time operating systems have become status quo, and microcontrollers continue to offer more performance for less money.”

Adopting real-time operating systems lets developers do a lot with these programmable displays. As programmers come up with new ways to automate more functions, the role of software is expanding swiftly, aided by continuing advances in semiconductors.

“The key drivers for additional automated functions will be software and new software functions,” said Marco Lehner, a spokesman for TTControl. “The hardware acts as an enabler, providing the necessary processing power and memory as well as required interfaces. Auto-guidance functions are a good example for such new automated functions. Integrated GPS receivers, high display resolutions of up to 1024 x 768 pixels, and an 800-MHz CPU allow efficient processing and display of map data.”

These programmable displays are also making it much simpler for operators and technicians to diagnose problems when they arise. Displays can show alerts when maintenance is needed, making changes like going from yellow to red and increasing the size of windows that tell operators maintenance is needed. When something breaks, the systems can pull data from a CAN network and tell technicians which parts they need to haul to the work site.

“A remote diagnostic solution like the Vision² programmable display with an integrated GSM modem lets the service center log into the machine remotely and get diagnostic information,” Lehner said. “This lets them ship the correct replacement part without having to send service technicians to the machine. That significantly reduces travel and maintenance costs.”

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