williamweaver, that is an interesting point about teaching physics. When I was studying physics one thing that really struck me and my classmates was that, if you weren't well prepared for the test, if you knew the basic laws, you could derive anything. Of course, in a test you only have so much time, so it pays to study.
Ann, one can never be sure, but MCUs are increasing in power as well. The latest trend is to combine MCUs with technologies like FPGAs. This increases their power tremendously by combining the logic processing capability of the MCU with the signal processing capability of the FPGA. The MCUs themselves often have some level of signal processing capability built in as with the ARM M3/4 line. Look for a blog on this topic from me soon.
Thanks for the link, Lou. It's fun to learn more about control systems for the robots I've written about: the tuna, worms and bugs you mention. But robots are getting really sophisticated, and I wonder how long MCUs will be able to keep up.
Chuck, I share your amazement in our cognitive abilities. We have seen so many examples of our technology extending our ability to create even more advanced technology and that reinforces my optimism. Thomas Edison famously did not select Tungsten as the filament material for his light bulb because we did not have the material processing technology needed to turn this extremely hard refractory metal into a thin filament. The Human Genome project was projected to take 15 years to complete, but due to innovation along the way provided a rough draft in 10 years (exponential yet again).
When I teach physics, we need to review the basics of time, position, motion, force, work, and energy, but it short order are able to have productive discussions of the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs Boson. Things are definitely arriving at a rapid pace, but thankfully, our mental models are improving right along with them. =]
Yes, indeed, I believe we are at a nearly-vertical part of the exponential curve right now, Bill. It's frightening to think of what that will mean for the next century. I don't think we have the cognitive abilities to even imagine that.
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.