Under the Hood and Around in the Back: Where to Find Today's RS-232

I just spent a few days at a nature festival this spring, and came home with a very different sense of the landscape I drove through: what had looked to me like ordinary fields and watercourses were now contained places to find spiders, water snakes, and turtles. While most of us are not living in a pristine wilderness crowded with wildlife, interesting creatures and plant life are still not too hard to find. Our guides made the point that finding these things was really just a matter of knowing were to look.

In a way, finding serial ports today is also a matter of knowing were to look. While you won't find a serial port on your tablet, cell phone, netbook, or XBox, they are nonetheless everywhere. This article will point out a few of the somewhat less obvious places where serial implementations exist; later articles will fill that picture in more fully.

Let's start in a typical variety store: chances are good that the receipt printer, barcode scanner, card reader, and other point-of-sale devices are serial-based. There are strong reasons for this: these devices do not need to transfer large volumes of data, low costs of implementation and operation and essential, and tamper-proof and robust connections are critical. Serial meets these requirements.

Continuing on to the gas station, the pumps that meter your purchase and conduct your payment transaction are also probably serial-based. A gas pump is no place to stash a computer, and the pumps are too far way for USB connections. Reliable and moderately long cable runs are needed. Serial meets these requirements.

Moving on to the factory floor: virtually every piece of automated equipment has a serial port somewhere: it's how the equipment's output is logged, it's how instructions are loaded and firmware is updated, it's how the equipment is controlled. Nothing glamorous here, but it's gotta work right, every time, no fooling around. Serial meets these requirements.

This is just the tip of the iceberg: security systems, espresso machines, medical devices, gaming systems, the list goes on and on. The next few articles will take a closer look at how some of these industries are using serial connections. The point is simple: serial meets the requirements.