Want to be a time traveler?

Time travel has often been the theme of science fiction stories. Even if you are not a fan of films such as "Back to the Future" and "Doctor Who," it is interesting to spare a moment to consider how much of yesterday's sci-fi is now reality in the form of today's communications, transportation, and defense systems. Much of it enabled by embedded computing technology such as VME and VPX.

In a relatively brief period of time, say 50 years, we have seen amazing changes to how we live, travel, and communicate, and a great deal of our modern way of life first “appeared” in our favorite old science fiction films. Much of the advancement can be attributed to the microprocessor technology available today, thanks to which we have access to communications and information 24/7, wherever we are. We have driverless trains and cars, highly automated planes and drones, remotely controlled homes, and endless surveillance systems. In addition, our armed forces are equipped with a wide array of electronic systems and weaponry.

We have all lived through change and learnt to embrace new technology. A two-year old child will play naturally with an electronic tablet for entertainment and take it for granted that swiping is the new writing! Older generations brought up with pens and paper have also had to learn to use that same technology. But what would our ancestors think of our world? They were no doubt a hardy bunch and in many ways, much more self-sufficient than we are today. But just as most of us would not survive in their 19th century world, without the benefit of living through gradual change, they would find our 21st century world terrifying.

At the beginning of the 1920s fewer than 10 percent of British households were wired to an electricity supply network, and that was mostly for lighting only. By the end of the 1920s, the two most common pieces of electrical equipment in British homes were apparently the electric iron and the electric radio. Our houses are full of modern conveniences, including the potential to have fridges connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) with restocking on line and delivery to your door by drone.

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And how would you explain our latest communication systems? In the 1920s, it was possible to send a post card across London which would arrive the same day. To most families it was probably the only form of remote communication. We have seen our mail systems become highly automated and now letters are being replaced by the many choices of instant messaging options available to us today.

Technology has advanced to make cell phones many times more powerful than the systems that first took man to the moon. Behind the handsets, advanced high performance technology ensures that the broadband infrastructure for communications is fast and efficient and 99.999 percent available. Systems using architectures such as or contain multiple processor boards, networked together over low latency backplanes to ensure fast deterministic delivery of data enabling us to send messages around the world almost instantaneously. We store increasing amounts of data in , and expect ever increasing upload and download speeds, so that we can display our photographs and information from any connected device.

Example of a processor board used in a communication system.

Defense technology

Technology has dramatically transformed our defense systems. Compare yesterday’s guns and tanks, field phones and messengers – not forgetting the pigeon post – with today’s highly sophisticated missiles, surveillance and communication systems. To a soldier in 1920, our armed forces would probably look like characters from one of our Star Wars movies. Using current technology, robots and unmanned vehicles are all part of the equipment that can be used to defend ourselves; a battle can be co-ordinated from a central mobile communication center, which has access to real time surveillance data and information, and commands can be given and received instantly. These battle field communication systems need to have the high performance of servers yet use minimum power, need to be ruggedized to survive the harsh environment yet be light and compact for maneuverability. VPX is one such architecture being used to meet the requirements for mobile battlefield communication systems, which include processors and switch products such as Intel Xeon-based processor boards and 10 Gigabit switch products from companies such as Concurrent Technologies.

Settlers move faster these days.

Many films have given us a preview of futuristic transportation systems. We do not yet have a time machine to take us backwards or forwards in time, but in the last hundred or so years, we have progressed from horse drawn vehicles to driverless cars being a reality, and soon we can expect drone taxis to be flying above us in our skies. Technology makes our choice of transport safer and more reliable than ever before. The fail-safe features in our air traffic control systems enable us to operate within densely packed air corridors around the world; and our rail and road systems can be monitored and controlled from remote locations. Compare that to the early settlers traveling for weeks to cross continents in wagons, guided by stars and landmarks: no air-conditioned hotels and for them!

So, when you do get your own Tardis or DeLorean time machine, will you choose to go back 200 years to understand where your ancestors came from and how they lived without the benefits of technology? Or, will you choose to fast forward 150 years and see what is in store for us?

In the meantime, while you are waiting for your time machine to arrive, to help you choose your next time travel holiday, you can simply download a history or sci-fi movie over the internet, get the in-house robot to bring you refreshments from your perfectly stocked Internet fridge, and “chat” to your friends and family via your gadget of choice. Enjoy!

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