So, Don’t you “Mimic” me!
During my life, I have always taken great pride in learning about how things worked, while continually studying every new technological invention that made it to the consumer market. Today we are living in an ever-advancing world of electronics and software and being surrounded by incredibly more complex systems.
These more complex systems would make it increasingly more difficult to interact with our world if it wasn’t for the ability to interact through a simplified, visual representation like a Window’s Desktop, Apple/Android App or even the drop-down Notification Panel on your phone.
Let’s say, we are going to operate that “Highly Advanced” 1960’s Star-Trek “Teleporter”. The fact is, we would need access to lots of complex information but we need it presented to us in a simple and uncomplicated way.
Say, a flashing light on the console to indicate the number of people to transport, a departure point scanner, access to ionization interference levels, maybe another light showing a transporter lock, and for an even easier way to safely control the dematerialization/reintegration process itself, how about some “Slider controls”. Now we’re ready. “Beam me up Scottie”. It sounds a bit “out-there”.
Ok, but the same principles still apply to our more familiar real-world technologies like a pressure cooker.
Let’s start with the pressure inside the cooker itself. Is it too high? The pressure cooker has a “Whistling Weighted Pressure Cap” balanced on the chamber’s release valve, to regulate (and indicate by whistling) the steam pressure within itself.
It’s a much better solution than actually opening the lid to check (that would be, dumb, dumb, dumb).
In a larger steam driven system (in a factory or a power plant) there would be a pressure gauge fitted directly to the pressure chamber, or they may even use a pressure transducer to send a relative electric signal to a meter on a control room’s display panel, or more likely for today, a representation on a graphics screen with an ICON or even an animation to mimic the pressure build-up.
In a typical production line in a factory there would be several thousand sensors to be monitored and an even larger number of relays, motors, lights and actuators to be controlled. All in the required timing and sequence to make the system automated.
Like all complex systems, things sometimes go wrong, so it’s important to be able to monitor the system using a Mimic Panel, a simple representation of that system in real-time. In some cases, it may be necessary to interject with control decisions that change the way the production line functions.
Mimic panels (control panels, status indicator panels, etc.) have been with us now for many years. I started working with fire indicator panels (in multi-story buildings) back in the early 1980’s and later with security mimic panels for managing CCTV and Access Control within prisons, casinos and smart buildings.
Back in the early 1990’s I created the hardware/software building blocks for engineering customer specific mimic control panels using Lexan Polycarbonate film reverse printed (from behind) with the graphic detail necessary to represent the customer’s system. This water-proof film covered the circuit boards containing the many LED indicators and micro-movement buttons to present a simplified and durable control panel. Remember, touch screen monitors were not a viable solution yet. Even if you could get them, they were still upwards of $5000.
Later (1995), we developed a configurable software graphic user interface (MAX GUI Platform), yes that’s what we called it, running on a Windows 3.1 Computer which interfaced with our MAX-1000 CCTV Management System. By clicking on the icons, maps and floor-plans we could select fixed cameras, control PTZ motorized cameras, unlock doors, control boom gates and graphically represent detected security breaches and show equipment failures. We even interfaced to the early “Video-Blaster” PC hardware for inserting live video from the CCTV cameras into the graphics windows on-screen.
Earlier this year, a colleague from the 90’s asked me, if I still had a copy of that old MAX GUI software. They wanted to interface to a two way radio using its RS-232 serial data port, and control it via a graphic display on a computer. Not all products have their own graphic control software.
I was bored, so I decided to “quickly” write a Universal Mimic Panel software package that could be used with any equipment or programmable logic control system. After “nine” months and releasing 53 beta versions, it has now taken on a life of its own.
I’m only now starting to understand the many diverse applications that a “Sand-Box” styled graphics user interface has in this rapidly evolving world of computer-controlled equipment and systems.
If you are interested, you can check it out for yourself.