The Art of Imitation

In a nutshell, an Emulator imitates or copies; it is something that impersonates something else. Technically speaking, it is a simulation of the functions of one system using a different system, so that the second system appears to behave like the first system. An important by-product of modern technology, an emulator gives users the capacity to obtain better control of the product/service it specifically serves.

The impact of emulators is most felt in the world of computers. As each computer consists of both hardware and software, the strong dependency between these two entities introduces a risk. If one of these fails, it will influence the computer’s operation and, consequently, its capabilities. As each hardware device will eventually break down, software accessibility is at stake. Emulation offers a solution to this problem.

As emulation imitates a certain computer platform/program on another platform/program, it makes it possible for users to view documents and run programs on a computer not designed to do so. In itself a program, an emulator creates an extra layer between an existing computer platform (host) and the platform to be reproduced (target).

Versatility: The many faces of the emulator

Whereas before emulation was perceived as limited only to computer systems, it has long since evolved to accommodate the needs of other areas like those of technology, the mobile web, business, games, aviation, and even art.

Emulators are especially visible now in the gaming industry. Gaming giants like Sony, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo and Sega, among others, often design their video game console software on especially accurate console emulators before trying it on real hardware. This enables them to test their software before finally manufacturing the final hardware in large quantities. In gaming, most of the time the company producing the simulator is also the one providing the hardware, which consequently enhances quality control.

Similarly, emulation is also prevalent in aviation and aeronautics. Aerospace manufacturers use engineering flight simulators in the development and testing of flight hardware. Emulation techniques are employed to make flight hardware work. Artificially-generated or real signals such as electrical, RF and sonar are emulated depending on the kind of equipment being tested. Engineering flight simulators are also used on the development and testing of flight software and the aircraft system itself.

Flight simulators are also extensively used by the aviation industry for design and development and for the training of pilots and other flight deck crew in both civil and military aircraft. This flight simulator tries to copy, or simulate, the experience of flying an aircraft. It is as realistic as possible. Different types of flight simulators exist. They range from video games up to full-size cockpit replicas mounted on electromechanical actuators.

Aerospace companies also make use of space flight simulators to replicate the experience of space flight in a spacecraft as closely and as realistically as possible. These range from video games up to cockpit replicas controlled by state of the art computer technology or elaborate water tanks for the simulation of weightlessness. Space flight simulators are used almost solely by the aerospace industry and the military for cosmonaut/astronaut training, disaster simulation and spacecraft development.

Emulators are also used in hardware architecture. Many printers, for example, are designed to emulate Hewlett-Packard Laser Jet printers because a lot of software is written for HP printers. By emulating an HP printer, a printer can work with any software written for a real HP printer. It tricks the running software into believing that this device is really some other device.

Emulation is also a preservation strategy heavily used in New Media Art as it primarily uses digital formats. Some artists who specialize in resurrecting obsolete technologies in their artwork recognize the importance of a decentralized process for the preservation of digital culture. The goal of emulation in New Media Art is to preserve a digital medium so it may be saved indefinitely and reproduced without error. This minimizes the reliance of artists on hardware, which ages and becomes obsolete.

Indeed, the important role of the emulator has never been as highlighted as it is now. It has even gone so far as to infiltrate the rising mobile web. In fact, most mobile site builders make use of the emulator to enable users to view, in real time, their mobile web sites as if viewing it from a mobile phone. Mobilemo, a mobile site builder, created an emulator that serves as an extension of the mobile phone itself. It lets the owner view the changes he made in customizing his mobile site. The emulator of such site also has browsing capabilities that also enables users to view the mobile sites of other members through the computer.