Q: Will what exactly Ethernet and USB "stacks" are, be covered in a later session?
A: No, but I'll give you a short answer. To run Ethernet or USB the MCU requires software that takes information from your application and presents it to the Ethernet or USB hardware in a format it can transmit. The software in a "stack" handles these operations. The word "stack" comes from the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model that comprises 7 "layers." Each layer provides specific types of functions. For more info, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OSI_model.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.