Advanced technology now lets budget-priced instrumentation handle tasks once requiring specialized and pricey test gear.
Trevor Smith | Pico Technology Test & Measurement
With a significant segment of engineers and researchers working at home or away from their lab during the pandemic, there is a large incentive to troubleshoot designs and validate performance using systems that are both precise and that stay within a limited budget. That is one reason why there is growing interest in PC-based systems such as PicoScopes that are able to capture and display complex waveforms that are the heartbeat of next-generation electrical and electronic technologies. They address many challenges with mathematical waveform analysis tools, decoding of popular serial communication protocols, and mixed-signal capabilities that span analog/digital, serial/parallel, high-speed (to 1 GHz) and high-resolution (to 16-bit) technologies.
Total cost of ownership of PicoScope PC-based instruments compares favorably with conventional benchtop instruments through free software updates provided throughout the lifetime of the products. Further, an advantage of the PC-based approach is that new PC and display technologies can be swapped in as they become available, upgrading instrument performance.
It is useful to review what kind of accuracy this sort of equipment can provide. Pico data loggers enable multi-channel recording of scientific and engineering parameters such as temperature (to 0.015°C accuracy), voltage (to 0.1% accuracy and 24-bit resolution), current, force, strain, vibration and many others. Alarms can be set to warn or take action on measurements that are out of limits. Annotations can be made during recordings to aid documentation of the results.
Pico radio frequency (RF) products include a vector network analyzer (VNA) that is invaluable for characterization of high-frequency communications networks and numerous other applications including materials and life sciences research. Pico sampling scopes offer bandwidth to 25 GHz for characterization of high-speed data networks and transmission lines.
Pico Test & Measurement products are PC-based, connecting to and employing industry-standard computer hardware and software for control, display and results analysis. The benefit of this approach is that the instruments are more compact and less costly than traditional benchtop instruments. It also means that users can upgrade their computer at any time to take advantage of processor performance improvements. Pico also provide free-of-charge updates to the application software throughout the lifetime of the instrument.
A recent development in this area is the PicoScope 6000E Series oscilloscope encompassing eight and four-channel models, each of which can be configured with 16 optional digital channels. These products sport bandwidths of 300 or 500 MHz, 8-bit or 8/10/12-bit flexible resolution and up to 4 GS deep capture memory. Pico PC-based instruments fit easily on any workbench and are increasingly being selected by engineers working in a laboratory or at home who need professional test equipment that fits in limited available space and within budget.
The PicoScope 6000E Series addresses mainstream test engineering requirements faced by engineers developing next-generation embedded systems. The PicoScope 6000E Series, coupled with PicoScope 6 application software, provides advanced debugging tools to accelerate development of high-end embedded systems, signal processing, power electronics, mechatronics, and automotive designs.
The PicoScope 6000E Series incorporates many features as standard, such as 21 serial protocol decoder/analyzers, spectrum analysis capability, a 50-MHz arbitrary waveform generator, and user-defined math and alarm functions for in-depth analysis and long-term unattended testing. With dimensions of 245x192x62 mm (9.7×7.6×2.5 in), the 6000E Series oscilloscopes Pico PC-based instruments fit easily on any workbench.
A free software development kit (SDK) available by download enables users to write their own applications around the PicoScope 6000E hardware. The SDK includes instrument drivers for Windows, macOS and Linux, and code examples in C, C#, C++ and Python. Drivers are also provided to interface with widely used third-party software packages such as Microsoft Excel, National Instruments LabVIEW and MathWorks MATLAB. Pico is an approved MathWorks Connections Program Partner with extensive in-house MATLAB developer experience.
Full capabilities of the PicoScope 6000E hardware are exposed to the programmer via the API, which enables development of custom and OEM applications in scientific, research, industrial, automotive and power applications.