Pushbutton machines – user interfaces

Back on the topic of pushbutton machinery.

The ideal pushbutton machine could provide, for the beginning user, a control system that would not “challenge” them with a command-line interface, such as provided by TASCOM and SPEC. One option would be point-and-click interfaces on a computer screen. Another would involve a more hardware-oriented approach using midi-devices.

The first option is a no-brainer, and is probably already widespread in commercial systems. The disadvantage is that such an interface (a gui to TASCOM or SPEC), would require constant maintenance due to over-enthousiastic managers (e.g. “Ooh, wouldn’t it be cool to integrate xxx into the GUI”), and other gui-related issues.

The second option would be a nicer one, in my opinion. Recently, we’ve seen the uptake of button boxes for NMR machines, to simplify the controls of the software on the computer. Electron microscope machines have never much stepped away from dedicated controls, and for good reason. Dedicated controls provide the occasional user with a feeling of control, when button “A” is pressed, the machine performs a single specific task. Instead, pressing “A” on a keyboard could do anything, and thus requires some more warm-up time, alienating the user from the machine.

So how would we go about this? Well, the motor controls, where needed, could be controlled by an inexpensive device like the Behringer BCR2000. This midi control interface can then provide visual feedback on the approximate motor position, and provide rotary controls to change the position accordingly. The push-buttons could then initiate scripts that would control the vacuum (i.e. it could start sample_changing procedures), the generator, and the detector system (i.e. start measurements). The options are nigh endless.

I think such a control box would make the system a little more user-friendly, and thus lower the barrier to SAXS.

Next up in this series: automated processing of data.

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