Resources
National Instruments Corp., www.ni.com

Video: Dr. Truchard keynote, zone.ni.com/wv/app/doc/p/id/wv-1674/upvisited/y

Video: The Mashavu Project, zone.ni.com/wv/app/doc/p/id/wv-1706/upvisited/y

While the economy may be in a downturn, there was no indication of that at NIWeek 2009, the annual users conference held by National Instruments Corp. (NI) in Austin, Tex. In fact, attendance grew 5% over last year, a sign that companies are eager to embrace technology that simplifies design and testing.

During his opening keynote address, Dr. James Truchard, National Instruments CEO, expressed concern that the U.S. is rapidly declining as a country of innovation and design. He was also quick to point out that those attending NIWeek were the counterpoint to this overall trend, stressing the need for more innovation from U.S. industry to created products the world wants to buy.

To make the point, NI hauled out several inspirational developments. One, the Mashavu Project, is a method of providing affordable health care to some of the most impoverished areas of East Africa. There, one doctor serves 50,000 residents. In contrast, the U.S. has about one doctor to every 390 people. To visit a doctor, some East Africans must travel more than a day. For the Mashavu Project, students from Pennsylvania State University used a method using LabView to link medical instruments with laptop computers and cellular phones, connecting these remote areas to doctors anywhere in the world.

The biggest impression I gained from the show is that LabView, NI’s premiere data-acquisition and control product, is finally growing beyond its original test and measurement role to take a position within the operation and control sphere — something it’s encroached upon more every year. This was evidenced by the numerous robotic systems at the show using LabView software to control robot operations, acquire and condition data from various sensors, determine a course of action based on that data, execute operations to meet goals, and to report status back through the LabView interface. In fact, more than 65% of the robots entered in the First Robotic Competition used LabView for control and operation.

LabView 2009
The main announcement, of course, was the introduction of NI’s LabView software, now dubbed LabView 2009. It helps simplify development of parallel hardware architectures with new virtualization technology that takes advantage of multicore systems. It also offers compiler improvements that enhance field-programmable gate-array (FPGA) design. The latest version of LabView can deploy code to wireless sensor networks to help engineers and scientists build smarter industrial measurement and monitoring systems.

Leading the charge in virtualization, LabView 2009 improves system efficiency by running several operating systems side by side on the same multicore-processing hardware. The NI Real-Time Hypervisor software combines the LabView Real-Time Module with general purpose OS capabilities to reduce overall system cost and size. For example, engineers can run Windows XP and LabView Real-Time side by side on the same controller, partitioning the processor cores among the two operating systems for more efficient use of system resources. The Real-Time Hypervisor works with NI’s dual and quad-core PXI controllers as well as its Industrial Controller.

Wireless-sensor networks (WSNs) make it possible to deploy distributed measurements across extended physical hardware systems. For example, engineers and scientists can analyze everything from rain forests and river deltas to the health and safety of buildings and bridges without being near the physical location of the sensor. The drag-and-drop programming environment of LabView lets engineers configure the wireless platform as well as extract, analyze, and present data measurements. Programmable functions within each WSN includes the ability to extend node battery life, limit or extend acquisition performance, and create custom sensor interfaces.

On the industrial side, NI improved the links between LabView 2009 and solid-modeling systems to develop a virtual-prototyping system. The seamless integration of the LabView 2009 SoftMotion Module and SolidWorks 3D CAD software helps engineers and scientists design, optimize, validate, and visualize real-world performance of machines and motion systems before building physical prototypes. The digital prototype can demonstrate not only the look, but also the movement and operation of a future machine before cutting any metal.