In one of my previous blogs Put an Oscilloscope on a Chip: Why Not?, I wrote about the idea that we ought to be able to squeeze almost all the circuitry for an oscilloscope onto an IC. Then Aubrey Kagan blogged about the advantages of being able to trace signals from behind closed doors. We've also discussed analog front ends (AFEs) more than once. Let's combine these ideas and see what we get, and let's see if the result is cost-effective while we're at it.
For the scope on a chip, I proposed integrating gain stages, filter networks, perhaps multiplexers, and multiple high-speed ADCs on a chip. You'd likely want the microcontroller unit (MCU) there, too. For the AFE, there are gain stages, filter networks, certainly one or more multiplexers, and one or more low- to medium-speed ADCs on a chip. The AFE likely has a voltage reference and some amount of power-supply circuitry.
You can see how these have overlapping functionality. While making a scope on a chip may still be a little way off, AFEs are here now. If you carefully choose the functional blocks that are integrated onto a chip, it should be possible and practical to make a general-purpose data acquisition system (DAS) on a chip right now.
There should be a large market for such a part. If such a part were added to the devices that we buy by the millions (TVs, smartphones, computers, etc.), it would simplify troubleshooting and repair. Two other markets, while not as large, are medical diagnostic equipment and telecommunications equipment. These are smaller markets (fewer pieces built per annum) but the equipment is critical. If it goes out of service, companies lose money.
That means that companies might be money ahead even if the ICs I'm describing are relatively expensive (though I doubt they would be). When you consider the cost to travel to the site of malfunctioning equipment, do the trouble-shooting, order replacement parts, and effect the repair, you can see how the DAS IC is pretty inexpensive in comparison.
I'd expect that a DAS IC that could monitor several power-supply voltages and currents, MCU clock frequency, temperature, and various digital data-streams would prove to be a valuable addition.
What equipment have you designed and done troubleshooting on for which a part like this would be useful? How much money would it save you in the long run?