The way electronic measurement instruments are built is making an evolutionary leap to a new method of design called synthetic instruments. This promises to be the most significant advance in electronic test and instrumentation since the introduction of automated test equipment (ATE). The switch to synthetic instruments is beginning now, and it will profoundly affect all test and measurement equipment that will be developed in the future.
Synthetic instruments are like ordinary instruments, in that they are specific to a particular measurement or test. They might be a voltmeter that measures voltage, or a spectrum analyzer that measures spectra. The difference is that synthetic instruments are implemented purely in software that runs on general-purpose, nonspecific measurement hardware with a high-speed A/D or D/A converter at its core. In a synthetic instrument, the software is specific; the hardware is generic. Therefore, the personality of a synthetic instrument can be changed in an instant. A voltmeter may be a spectrum analyzer a few seconds later, and then become a power meter, or network analyzer, or oscilloscope. Totally different instruments are realized on the same hardware, switching back and forth in the blink of an eye, or even existing simultaneously.
The union of the hardware and software that implement a set of synthetic instruments is called a synthetic measurement system (SMS). This book studies both synthetic instruments, and systems from which they may be best created.