I remember well seeing National Instruments’ LabView for the first time. It was in Dublin’s RDS exhibition centre in 1988 and there a keen young American presented this program on one of the original Apple MACs which had automation engineers present salivating with wonder at this oh so simple way of configurating a control loop. It was very “Apple” and therefore very user friendly.
Lots of water has flowed under the proverbial bridge since then, history decided that the Microsoft windows was to be the preeminent platform for control systems and nowadays National Instruments products mostly use this platform. They have lost none of their enthusiasm however and organise events throughout the world to promulgate the good news and educate engineers and technicians on the many techniques and technologies they continue to develop.
This year the Ireland and Britain subsidiary of NI have hosted a series of seminars or “Technical Symposia,” a one-day professional development series for engineers and scientists. These were held in Glasgow, Cambridge, Manchester and the Irish leg was in Dublin. The symposium offered in-depth technical sessions and hands-on training covering the latest in test, control and design. It offered the opportunity to learn about the latest NI software and hardware innovations, “which offer greater flexibility, faster development and increased system performance.”
The full day event was divided into two tracks, a presentation track and a practical or “hands-on” track. The morning and evening sessions were preceeded with keynotes where all delegates were assembled together. In all there were in excess of 60 attendees at the event from all regions of the island.
The first keynote on Harnessing the Cloud: a LabVIEW vision was delivered by John Wooton, National Instruments Area Manager. He gave a very good presentation on what exactly is meant by this fairly new term, the cloud in computing. Over the lifetime of LabVIEW each new version has provided new features to make users more productive and their test and measurement applications more powerful. With the advent of cloud computing, engineering architectures could soon look very different.
He gave the vision for LabVIEW in this new world and how engineers and scientists could harness the cloud to solve real-world challenges. We have entered the Petabyte age and Labview is in the business of acquiring analysing and finally presentation.
In the first practical session under the direction of Séamus Casserly, District Sales Manager for Ireland confirmed that the LabView concept still intrigues – at least to this correspondant! He outlined briefly the latest trends in development of the product and guided the practical test driving of PC-based data acquisition systems and helping participants on how to use graphical programming techniques to create modular and flexible applications; measuring temperature with a thermocouple and log the data to a file. These acquisition and signal conditioning products offer highly accurate measurements, combined with LabVIEW they give the power easily to acquire, analyse and present data in minutes.
Moving into the practical track he later introduced us to the FPGA (Field-programmable Gate Array) concept used by SPINX, CERN and Optmedica for instance. It is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by the customer or designer after manufacturing, in other words it is “field-programmable”. The NI FPGA module opens up this technology to engineers for reconfiguarble input/output (RIO). He discussed LabVIEW FPGA for various pplications and how clients can efficiently develop and evaluate an application with this software. In the hands-on track there wsa the opportunity to explore this practically.
An other area where National Instruments has made advances is in the area of Robotics. In this presentation we gained an insight into the impact that robotics innovation will have in coming years and understand such as the NI CompactRIO. the challenges faced in designing robots to sense, think and act intelligently. This is a priority area for instance in the United States where the government are investing up to $52b in robotics. Areas of greatest use are security, education (maths and science), disability and improving core technologies e.g home use.
The second keynote in the afternoon was a fascination session enthusiastically given by Edin Omerdic of the University of Limerick on Advanced Control Systems for Open Water Autonomous Submarines. This was a fascination insight into practical research applications underwater. This is part of the projects from the Marine Robotics Research centre at UL.
We were unable to attend the further presentations but they are available for download on the National Instruments website here!
These includes RF measurement, using FlexRIO and LabView FPGA for Test Applications and the latest techniques and technologies for data acquisition. The presentation I would have loved to hear was entitled Smart Phones for Smarter DAQ. We probably carry around more computing power in our pockets today than was available on the average desktop 10 years ago. This presentation promised to tell us how to harness the capabilities of iOS, Android and the LabVIEW Web UI Builder to acquire measurement data on a mobile computing platform and share it over the Internet.
The well attended event was a busy no-nonsense symposium with lots of information and knowledge being exchanged.