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The LV-MLF Flight Simulator
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The hardware and software of any flight simulator are very complex, sophisticated macro components of such systems; technology advances and upgrades become inevitable, so defining a clear path for recurrent upgrading is a must for any designer.
Upgrading generates a lot of trouble during the design of any sort of simulator because these systems are hardware and software-intensive machines; with some good planning, however, upgrade blues can be kept to a minimum. It is indeed impossible to forecasts what technology will achieve in the future, and it may not prove to be financially or practically sound to upgrade every single component of a simulator as technology moves, so a good design in this regard means that the interrelations between software and hardware components must be addressed carefully in order to avoid dead ends like:
The impossibility to upgrade the software due to its very tight interrelations to hardware limited by its capacity. This happens, for example, when a CPU cannot receive any more memory, a new microprocessor, etc. and any change in software means also a hardware upgrade.
The impossibility of using hardware modules due to the obsolescence of communications protocols or I/O standards. This happened, for example, when serial and game orts were replaced by the USB standard a few years ago; old hardware became obsolete overnight and that may be an inconvenience for any gaming enthusiast, but a budget nightmare for the owner of an expensive system like a cockpit flight simulator.
It is impossible to cover all sides in this problem and keep all upgrading costs at zero, but if you build a simulator try to achieve the highest degree of independence between hardware and software. If your components are too interdependent, then any sort of upgrade would become a major problem because upgrading software will always entail some hardware upgrades as well, and vice versa. If your components remain independent, then such complex, hardware plus software upgrades will be kept to a minimum. The more proprietary your simulation technology becomes, the more acute your upgrade problems will be in the future.
Ideally, you should achieve a design in which every single component works as a black box and remains so independent from one another that upgrades will be limited to just a discrete software or hardware module. This is just an unattainable ideal but you can get as close as possible by using off-the-shelf technologies wherever you can, and it is the reason why we used standard hardware modules like those manufactured by GoFlight Inc., because changing them, while not necessarily a breeze, is relatively easy. In fact, during the development of LV-MLF we changed a couple of hardware modules like radios and our auto pilot system, and problems were kept to a minimum; this is possible thanks to the USB standard used by these modules. Older technologies, while good, like those based on EPIC cards are generally more difficult to upgrade.
The LV-LMF simulator flying over a mountain range. Hardware components must work well with the software installed, but both should remain independent.
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