A Workshop on the Future of Instrumentation

E-mail Dr. Kenneth Tobin

Each year there are a variety of meetings and conferences that pertain to various aspects of sensors, automation, instrumentation, and applications. In many of these meetings, the bulk of the meeting/conference is focused on describing past and current efforts with a look over the horizon as to what's coming.

A strategic review that was conducted for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Measurement Science and System Engineering division highlighted the general lack of a forward-looking instrumentation meeting. Certainly there are a multitude of conferences that involve some flavor of automation, sensors, and controls—but none that we could identify that are looking over the horizon in any significant way. Discussions with my staff and colleagues outside of ORNL led us to decide that it was time to hold a future of instrumentation workshop—right here at ORNL on November 8–9, 2010.

The goal of this workshop was to provide a forum where all levels of interested parties could meet to present and discuss topics appropriate for the Future of Instrumentation. With instrumentation embedded into an expansive array of applications (biotech, medical, astronomical, industrial, consumer, etc.,) we brought together an array of technologists, analysts, and business leaders to investigate the impact of current trends in instrumentation technology on application areas including those already mentioned as well as the electric grid, renewable energy sources, modular reactor technologies, intelligent building controls, energy efficiency, energy security, and related topics. To that end, the Workshop was quite successful for individuals from the private, public, and academic sectors who participated. Given the thought-provoking topics raised and the highly interactive nature of the meeting, the discussions, interspersed with excellent technical presentations, made for a lively and engaging time.

By holding it at ORNL we viewed this as your opportunity to intersect with the leaders who are at the forefront of instrumentation for industry, government, and academia.We encountered technologies (and technologists) who fostered collaborative relationships; learned about government and private-sector funding opportunities; and broadened our horizons by learning about cross-cutting technologies that were developed in one instrumentation sphere but are applicable to other areas. Such technologies include sensing technologies, embedded computing and systems, integrated instrumentation systems, top-to-bottom cyber security methodologies, and trustworthy sensors.

Plenary presentations by Walt Boyes, Kim Fowler, and Sterling Rooke covered topics that on first appearance looked divergent but the presentations and lively discussion showed that instrumentation, industrial needs, and the cybersecurity of systems—all the way down to the instrument itself—present the appropriate framework for the development and deployment of current and future instrumentation. The mix of highly detailed technical presentations (in areas such as hybrid fiber-optic sensors, nanotechnology, etc.,) coupled with practical reviews of instrumentation (such as planning for instrumentation obsolescence) and the software/firmware implications for current and future instrumentation completed the cycle for near-term instrumentation development.

Future Plans
The overwhelmingly positive feedback from conference attendees—both those who attending in person and the 270+ who participated in the Web broadcast of a Day 1 Panel Session—revealed that, while there are numerous conferences and symposia dealing with sensors and the application thereof, instrumentation, as defined by the IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement Society, lies at the heart of the integration of sensing technologies with feedback systems, be they physical, computational, or mechanical. Discussions within the Workshop indicated that, from a participant perspective, there is a need for focused discussion on instrumentation in future meeting. Plans are underway for the 2011 Future of Instrumentation.

This group of industrialists, scientists, and technologists who participated are striving to examine trends in instrumentation. We're after the creation and application of instrumentation for a variety of useful applications. Industry, academia, and government—the intersection of each pillar of instrumentation, development, and delivery. It's the Future of Instrumentation.

Dr. Kenneth Tobin is the Director of the Measurement Science and Systems Engineering (MSSE) Division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN. He can be reached at 865-574-0355, tobinkwjr@ornl.gov.

Dr. Peter Fuhr is a Distinguished Member of the research staff of the Measurement Science and Systems Engineering (MSSE) Division at ORNL. He can be reached at 865-574-5206, fuhrpl@ornl.gov.