All the education in this world would not be able to stop me from burning out parts while working on an electronics project. But being able to reduce the chances of having expensive components go up in smoke would be welcome any day. The option to virtually design electronics has this as one of its many benefits.

We already have exceptionally well-designed software designed to help beginners get started with electronics virtually, without having to directly handle the tools or equipment themselves.

Virtual electronics does not stop there though. It can help you through a number of things from being a platform for collaboration between research and development teams sitting on opposite sides of the planet, to being able to let someone test your chip as part of his or her system without having to give complete access to the component itself [intellectual property (IP) protection].

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Creating virtual situations
At Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2015 in Barcelona, two simulators were used to set up a test system that allowed engineers to simulate any global location and mobile connectivity on demand.

Smart Systems Laboratory of University of Hertfordshire, the UK, wanted to demonstrate a connected car and its diagnostics systems in action at MWC. They did this by using a satellite-positioning technology called global navigation satellite system (GNSS) through a simulator from Spectracom. This was combined with simulated long term evolution (LTE) network environment provided by Anritsu’s mobile network simulator. The connected car system being developed is based on the wireless transmission of onboard diagnostics (OBD) information available through a cloud server using mobile backhaul (LTE, 3G and GPRS) together with global positioning system (GPS) location.

Rahman Jamal, global technology and marketing director, National Instruments (NI), explains that, “As things get complex, say, in a car, for example, you want to do as much engineering as possible in the laboratory where it is safe to test. This is where hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) testing is done. Once that piece of software is running in the loop, it acts as if it was already built. If this test is working out, you can start replacing parts of the simulation with real-built hardware.”

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This is something that was known for the automotive industry but it is now being used for white goods like refrigerators and washing machines. We have heard from the industry that integration of simulation capabilities with test is something that they need big time. “While circuit design simulation is a very specific area, this is also done while embedding mathematical models of refrigerators and engine control units (ECUs),” adds Jamal.

A typical network-centric application will have multiple end devices, gateways, switches and routers that are interconnected and generating data as well. When such a system is connected to the Internet, it adds further complications. System simulation tools are able to set up functional virtual platforms for heterogeneous processor architectures and allow devices to be configured on-the-fly.

“Fault injection capabilities can enable the system behaviour to be tested against vulnerabilities, and thereby address security concerns much ahead of time. To rig up such a complex system in a real world would not only have commercial implications but also technical challenges,” adds Kiran Kumar S., field application engineer, Wind River.

The unique IoT design challenge
The Internet of Things (IoT) being a complex cyber physical system with umpteen number of nodes, the biggest design challenge is to ensure reliable and accurate interactions with the real world. Considering the scale at which IoT components would eventually be implemented in, designers have to not just look at whether individual systems work in tandem but also at how it is affecting the overall system when it is finally released into the real-world environment.

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