Looking Back at the History of Batch Unit Interfaces

Sep 28, 2016

light-bulb-1002783_960_72033You’ve probably heard of human machine interfaces (HMIs), but are you familiar with batch unit interfaces?

A batch interface is essentially a special type of non-interactive interface through which a human operator controls a machine or device. The operator specifies all of the required information for a “batch job,” at which point the machine or device processes the job and provides an output when complete. Unlike many other interfaces, the machine or device does not ask or otherwise prompt the operator for additional input once the processioning has commenced.

Some people assume that batch unit interfaces are now, but this isn’t necessarily true. On the contrary, they’ve been around for many years. According to Wikipedia, the earliest models were invented during the mid 1940s, a time during which computing power and resources was not only rare but also expensive. This made user interfaces somewhat rudimentary, as users were forced to make changes to better accommodate computers. As a result, user interfaces were classified as overhead, with software being designed for maximum utility and minimal overhead.

Back in the early days of batch unit interfaces, input was typically achieved using punch cards. The output contained line printers that worked in conjunction with these punch cards. The only real tangible input given from the operator involves the operator’s console. Other than that, the human operator gave minimal input to the batch unit interface.

When submitting a job to a batch unit interface, the operator prepared the punch card by programming the dataset. Different inputs were achieved by making different quantities of hole punches in different locations. After punching the cards, the operator would place them in a queue and wait for the device or machine to respond.

As you can see, batch unit interfaces were someone archaic when compared to modern-day interfaces. They required more work on behalf of the operator, and therefore were more susceptible to error. However, they played an important role in laying the framework for newer and more advanced interfaces, including the human machine interface. If batch unit interfaces were never invented, perhaps we’d never HMIs.

What do you think of batch unit interfaces?

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