Processors found in video-game machines are doubling as platforms for test and instrumentation software.
Charmed Labs LLC of Hawthorne, N.J., bases a robot controller for students on the Game Boy Advance. It recently ported its robot controller to the embedded version of LabView from National Instruments Inc., Austin. LabView embedded is scheduled for release sometime next year.
The Charmed Labs XRC, for Xport Robot Controller, targets schools and college courses in robotics and controls. It combines a Game Boy Advance with LEGO components to yield a mobile platform good for demonstrating advanced concepts such as closed-loop motor control. Charmed says the XRC far exceeds the capabilities of the 8-bit processor that normally accompanies the LEGO MindStorms mobile experimental platform.
Experimenters normally program the Charmed XRC in C++ or other languages such as Basic. But the LabView port, says Charmed founder Rich LeGrand, will open up robotics to a variety of students who might otherwise be put off by the complexity of the programming involved.
"Kids don't necessarily know how to program in C," says LeGrand. "LabView will give them the ability to program the LEGO platform without having to learn a formal programming language."
The XRC has a number of other features that come in handy for robotics competitions and experimentation. It carries four closed-loop back-EMF motor controllers and as many as 16 analog and digital sensors. Communication with the XRC platform can optionally take place through a wireless Bluetooth connection.
Digital outputs on the device came in handy during a recent demonstration at the National Instruments NI Week confab in Austin. To demonstrate how compact LabView Embedded code could be, engineers at NI read out a binary-coded representation of data coming from a distance sensor on an XRC into an 8-bit PIC processor. The PIC, running a slimmed-down version of LabView Embedded, converted the data to a simple display on an LED read out.
LabView allows interacting with instrumentation and controls via a drag-and-drop graphic scheme rather than by conventional line-by-line coding. Versions of the program are widely used in testing and simulation.
Charmed Labs LLC, charmedlabs.com
The LEGO Group, lego.com
National Instruments Inc., ni.com