NI Week 2009

Throughout the year, Robust Haven makes an effort to attend a variety of events that discuss the topics of diverse industries and technologies. In this article, we will discuss why it was important to attend the 2009 NI Week Worldwide Graphical System Design Conference. We will also feature several of the interesting demos that were visible in the show room, as well as share what we discovered about NI products. Lastly, we will explain how Robust Haven will utilize NI products.

Why did Robust Haven attend the NI Week conference?

Internally, we use LabVIEW and Multisim for hardware product prototyping. In most cases, this means driving inputs into a microcontroller, waiting for steady state, and sensing the microcontroller output. This process helps us rapidly develop our microcontroller logic. Therefore, the products of NI (National Instruments) affect the majority of companies who provide hardware and software integration development services, like Robust Haven.

In our opinion, NI’s advancements in tooling have been as important to the hardware development field as Microsoft’s role has been in modernizing software development. Dr. James Truchard, Tuesday’s keynote speaker, echoed the same statement by saying, “To do for embedded what the PC did for the desktop.”

In his keynote address, “Robotics: The Next Disruptive Technology”, Dr. David Barret summed up the importance of NI. http://zone.ni.com/wv/app/doc/p/id/wv-1709/upvisited/y If you are new to the mechatronics /embedded field, we recommend that you pay close attention to the video segment at 33:50 seconds through 34:30 seconds. Building off the NI suite may be the fastest way to become competitive.

Show room demos

Bottling Company Demo

Although we could not find a video of the Bottling Company demo on the NI website, we wanted to include these pictures taken in the show room. This is a practical example of a complete system that can be developed based on NI’s data acquisition products combined with LabVIEW. What we love about this demo is that it shows NI beyond testing and prototyping. The bottles are rotated so their logo is aligned with the camera view, and shifted through specific conveyor belts based on the color.

X Series 3d Scan http://zone.ni.com/wv/app/doc/p/id/wv-1681

The most impressive feature in this demo was the data streaming capabilities of NI’s data acquisition devices. In this scenario, the devices acquired sampled data from a laser distance pointer to update a 3d model in real time.

To see more videos and presentations from NI Week 2009 conference visit: http://www.ni.com/niweek/keynote_videos.htm

What we discovered

Historically, NI products are mostly used in prototyping and testing labs due to the cost of the DAQ devices required to interface with LabVIEW. For a product that is sold for less than $200.00, the cost is not justified. During the conference however, NI unveiled their new LabVIEW embedded ARM module that enables developers to program in LabVIEW and retarget their application to a supported ARM device. This new development allows NI to target markets in which they were previously overpriced. It also allows for existing LabVIEW developers to leverage their skills in what traditionally has been dominated by C, C++ developers programming microcontrollers.

In summary, the graphical VI is compiled to C code which will then need another trip through Keil UVision compiler and linker to be natively compiled to an application which can be consumed in an ARM device, all without the need of a DAQ board or LabVIEW.

Direction Summary

So, how do these changes affect the way we at Robust Haven use NI equipment? If we were new to the business, we may have been easily persuaded to use NI even on microcontrollers; however, one of the biggest problems faced with using graphical tools such as LabVIEW, is that the architecture complexity becomes difficult to manage. Conversely, this is an area where text based software development has a well established standard of using design patterns, versioning software like Subversion, diff tools like Beyond Compare, unit testing frameworks like JUnit, NUnit, and MSTest , and code metric software like NDepend and built in IDE code metric tools. Developed over the last 15 years, these tools provide software development the needed foundation for complex applications that are well maintained.

Only recently did LabVIEW 2009 introduce an early stage of a unit testing framework, code metrics, and subversion integration (without diffing capabilities because their tool is not text based). Hence, LabVIEW is years behind in providing applications that are maintainable and scalable for general purposes use.

Although we have a very clear understanding of the types of products that could easily be built with COTS NI products, for the time being, Robust Haven will continue to use NI equipment merely for prototyping and testing. We can however, assure our future customers that we will be diligent in choosing the technology that makes sense for the given requirements and goals.

While we cannot divulge important information about internal research, we believe that our framework Parsing Expression Grammar will be a building block for our company to bridge high level languages; initially C#, with low level microcontroller development as a way to enable developers to easily build HMI services similar to the X Series 3d Scan demo.

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Other interesting topics we didn’t mention:

Coordinated Robotics Lab http://zone.ni.com/wv/app/doc/p/id/wv-1705/upvisited/y Recommended Tutorial in PID controllers: http://ww1.microchip.com/downloads/en/AppNotes/00964A.pdf