Building on the work of cathode ray oscilloscope inventor Karl Ferdinand Braun a half-century earlier, Tektronix founders Howard C. Vollum and Jack Murdock invented the triggered oscilloscope in 1946, allowing engineers to display a repeating waveform in a coherent, stationary manner on the phosphor screen. Since its humble beginnings 60 years ago, Tektronix has achieved many first developments. It was the first maker of calibrated oscilloscopes and multiple-trace oscilloscopes for comparing signals. In the 1970s, Tektronix introduced the direct-view bistable storage tube to let engineers observe single-pulse waveforms, not just repeating waveforms. Transistor components and microchannel plates would let the phosphor screen display a visible trace of a single-shot event in the late '70s.
Today's digital storage oscilloscope has digital memory and uses complex processing of the signal via high-speed DSP circuits. Digital storage oscilloscopes with color LCD displays can have an attached printer directly record screen images on paper. Data sets transmit easily over networks.
Another modern tweak has oscilloscope software running in Windows on a PC, making the instruments particularly suitable as an instructional tool in classes. As such, Tektronix is converting its product line to large-screen, PC-based oscilloscopes equipped with multi-GHz input digitizers and highly customized interfaces for humans.
Whether as a CRT display with analog processing or digital processing on a PC-based platform, the oscilloscope has kept pace with rapid innovations in chips. In the wireless gigahertz era, test tools in the lab play a growing role in timely development of next-generation products. Companies like Tektronix and Agilent partner with software analysis companies like The MathWorks to equip development engineers with instruments to customize measurements, perform data analysis, generate arbitrary waveforms and develop automated scripts. This cooperation is especially needed to test the multi-GHz wireless applications that many consumer devices target.
Even with 60 years' experience, Tektronix and the rest of the industry still need hard-to-find clever RF designers. To that end, it has launched nationwide DesignInsight seminars and is soliciting RF engineers to take a series of quizzes to identify today's "RF geniuses" on a Web site (www.myrfiq.com) co-developed with IEEE Communications Magazine. The top prize is round-trip fare and accommodations for the IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium in Honolulu next June. Even 60 years after the development of the triggered oscilloscope, Tektronix continues to innovate in its unique way. Happy anniversary!