The focus thus far has been on individual components and developing the electronics subsystems of an instrument with a few cases where we have introduced microcontrollers to provide additional control. In the case of an instrument, sometimes a top-down view can provide a good framework for design decisions. It is not uncommon for an engineer to be looking to make an instrument that can interrogate some physical phenomenon with a sensor or sensor suite and then can collect the data for use on a computer. In the past, this was a complicated process, but for instruments that operate at modest data-collection rates and can stream the data to digital storage without interfering with other tasks, this is now quite a reasonable task.
Putting all the pieces together is never simple, and it takes a few tries to be comfortable with all of the options that are available to modern engineers and scientists. Modern tools can include simulators, premanufactured subsystems, and 3D additive printing for the manufacture of enclosures, knobs, and mounting hardware, all of which make the final product more usable. How these tools can be used is left to the reader to explore. Next we will use an example instrument to show how it all comes together.
In this chapter we will look at how to construct a simple instrument that includes a sensor operated by a microcontroller, and for which the collected information is relayed through to a data-collection computer. There are many possible ways to implement this example instrument, but through this design process it should become clear from this example how to try other approaches.
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