A World-Wide-Web Based Instrumentation Pool
Real Testing in a Virtual World


This paper proposes an original new way for integrating training of advanced measurement equipment in education at University level. It uses some of the WWW features such as the ability to have multimedia documents, the simplicity of the HTML syntax and particularly the Web's networked structure. The basic idea is, that on the one side there is an instrumentation pool, that means a number of intruments located anywhere in the world. On the other side a detailed description of the instrument and its front panel are available on the WEB and can be accessed by any Web browser for a specific declared usersgroup. This link permits students to learn the use of advanced measurement equipment, to perform real measurements with instruments not available at the University.

1. Introduction

Test of devices and VLSI Systems is a fundamental step in process development, devices and system characterisation, process monitoring, reliability investigation and failure analysis. For the electrical test, a certain class of instruments is widely used, e.g. VLSI characterisation systems, semiconductor parameter analysers, network analysers, digital oscilloscopes, function generators and spectrum analysers.
A training course for students in microelectronics concerning this equipment would be desirable, but is not always possible because of the high price of these instruments. The high price of these instruments (e.g. 100000$ for a network analyser) is a huge disadvantage, because standard university training course concepts cannot be applied. The acquisition of all these instruments only for teaching aims is too expensive and they would be totally out of date in some years. The typical lifetime of a university training course is about 10-15 years, which is not compatible at all with the rapid microelectronics evolution.
Another approach is presented, based on the use of the WWW. It is addressed especially to students who need a good practical expertise of advanced industrial equipment in electronics.

2. The new concept

In every lab, advanced instruments are available and often not used at 100%. Often not all classes of instruments are available. Generally, every site has its own speciality on a well defined topic like telecommunications, ASICs, assemblies, VLSI design ... but students should have access to a wide class of instruments to get the best education. To overcome this drawback, we propose a new concept: measurements and instruments are geographically separated. On the one side, there is an instrumentation pool, that means a number of instruments located anywhere in the world, connected via standard IEEE-488 interface bus to a workstation which is connected to the Internet. Next the front panel or the mean functions of the instrument are detailed on a Web Page. The link between the two units permits a specified clas of users to access the instrumentation pool and to perform measurements.

3. Implementation

Figure 1 shows the necessary structure you need to add an instrument to the instrumentation pool.

Figure 1 : WWW virtual instruments implementation

In your lab, you must have on a workstation a local program for measurements, driving the GPIB card which is connected via the IEEE-488 interface to one or more instruments. Furthermore, the workstation has to be connected to the local Web Server. There has to be a Web Page where the front panel or the mean function of the instruments are defined and a local software is then driving the measurement program using the HTML commands "post" and "get". This Web Page can now be accessed with a Web Browser anywhere in the world. This kind of implementation profits naturally of the intrinsic Web Server and Unix security. It is also possible to declare an independent data base with users able to access the instrumentation pool.

4. Examples

We are presently implementing the system described in figure 1. The instrument used is the well known HP4145 Semiconductor Parameter Analyser. Figure 2 shows the front panel of this instrument.

Figure 2 :  HP 4145 Front Panel

The corresponding Web Page address is http://www.ixl.u-bordeaux.fr/retwine.html , where retwine stands for "REmoTe World-wide Instrumentation NEtwork".

5. Training on the Web

This training course is addressed especially to students who need a good practical expertise of advanced industrial equipment in electronics. The task consists of detailed investigation of the functionality, performances and limits of an advanced analysis system for microelectronics fields.

The work is supposed to be divide into two phases:

First, the investigation is based on literature about the instrument (i.e. user's manual, course manuals, which should be available on the Net...), and consists in highlighting the following points:

The use, and the specific fields of application.
The measuring principles.
The performances and the limitations.

Then, a practical part is proposed to the students, which is also divided into two parts:

A preliminary and quite elementary practice is required in order to ensure that the handling of the device is correct, and to understand how to get the basic data.
This is followed by a heavier topic which explores as far as possible the advanced possibility of the instrument.

This concept had been applied to our IUP (Institut Universitaire Professionnalise Genie Electrique et Informatique Industrielle) students for three years and we have good results. To realise the new proposed concept (geographical separation of instruments and measurements), all course material will be available on Web. For instance, case studies are under construction.

6. Discussion

The world-wide instrument training pool has many advantages besides these directly related to the handling with microelectronics test environment:

Students are in contact with very new and advanced instruments that could not be experimented in a pure classical university course.

Students are in contact with research and industrial environment.

Students in countries in development can use the most modern instruments.

Communication between students in different countries on a special topic through the creation of SIGs (Special Interest Group); the same philosophy can be applied later in industry to solve problems together.

Remote control of instruments can be even used from other continents allowing a "night" service of the machine due to the shift of time.

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