Your correspondant has had a certain “grá” for National Instruments when, in 1988, at an exhibition in Dublin, he saw a young man from Austin (TX US) give a demonstration of LabView on a Macintosh computer – probably a MAC II – which basically set the mouth watering because of its simplicity. At that time MS Windows was probably hardly a twinkle deep in eye of a not very well known Bill Gates so the concept of virtual instrumentation was really only possible on the MAC.
We were therefore delighted to recieve an invitation to a press event organised by them in London which rather intreguing told that we would “find out, under embargo, about the launch of LabVIEW 2011 and the latest cutting edge NI software and hardware for test, control and design!” It also invited us to “See how NI UK & Ireland, through Graphical System Design, is committed to the future of engineering and is helping to solve real-world engineering challenges!”
Well! What could we say? A pre-launch launch is always a tempting offer to a journalist. So we immediatly booked our passage on the relatively new service of Aer Árann from Galway Airport to Southend! Where? Yes we didn’t know there was an airport in Southend either, or indeed where exactly Southend was but now we do and it is in fact an incredibly hand service for getting into London City with a direct rail link into the heart of the city in about 40 minutes. Beats the packed tube from Heathrow or the uncomfortable bus ride from Luton any day of the week.
But this is not a travel article so to the business in hand!
There was almost a full house with the great and the good of British and Irish technical publications present with one or two notable absences. Things got off to a start more or less on time.
The recently appointed Kyle Voosen, NI’s Marketing Manager in Britain & Ireland, led off with an introduction and a graphical representation of the elements of systems that need measurement and control, a sort of thought process leading to the final solving a problem as practised in National Instruments. He said that “Tools should not limit discovery and innovation,” was to be the theme of the conference. Tools are their to help rather than hinder invention.
Presentations first described the technology and them proceeded to give actual application examples. Since there is an embargo on the new products, which will be released at NI Week (early August 2011) we basically give a brief run down here of applications more than actual product specifications and upgrades. These will be release over a few days starting on the first of August and we will advise each release on twitter , our Facebook Pageand on LinkedIN.
First off the blocks was Graham Green, Technical Marketing Engineer who spoke on meeting the needs of mission-critical applications. (We had actually met him earlier in the year at a symposium in Dublin in February.) He stressed the essential investment in testing both man hours and with their beta testers. These largely independent users lead to useable and therefore successful products. He quoted some comments from these trials which indeed looked very promising for the new LabView 2011. He then did a quick demo of the product which seemed to be having problems but he quickly realised that it is a good idea to have your PC hooked up to the equipment for a good demonstration! And it was a good smooth demonstration. He gave as practical and contrasting examples of applications. One was the measurement of tornadoes – from the inside where the opportunity for taking measurements is in an unrepeatable time frame. The other application was in the operating theatre where critical pressure pressure measurements are used in reducing the risk of lung deterioration after surgery.
Tristin Jones, who is Technical marketing Leader with NI, opined that tools should not limit embedded design. He mantained that they are one of the few companies that supplies “the complete solution with unrivalled hardware integration, complete, low-cost data acquisition, embedded control and monitoring, PXI and modular Instrumentation.” He quoted company founder Dr James Truchard, their aim was “To do for embedded what the PC did for the desktop!” He then described what happened historically defining the PC and how it now provides the basic platform for everything. He defined the embedded system: “An embedded systemis a computer system designed to do one or a few dedicated and/or specific functions. It is embedded as part of a complete device often including hardware and mechanical parts.” The diversity of applications is impressive and is growing as the architecture becomes more and more versitile. Again he gave applications using deployed systems in the measurement of wind for powering remote villages and in innovative devices in medical imaging.
The new era of Aautomated test was enthusiaistically greeted by Jeremy Twaits, Technical Marketing Engineer. Increasing test complexity paradoxically requires testing which has lower cost and faster. In the old order a single test instrument was sufficient for testing. Since then test engineers are faced with a plethera of test instruments. National Instruments are in the forefront of developments here. He quoted Mohammad Ahmad of Thales Communications “NI PXI hardware and LabVIEW software are essential technologies for test automation productivity and reuse.” and from Analog Devices makes another point on this change, “The shipping container for the previous ATE system alone would cost as much as our entire new PXI test system.” He pointed to the difference in cost, footprint, weight and facility where substantial reductions are achieved – more than a factor of ten in the cost and one of up to sixty six in weight. As they say in America, “Do the math!” National Instruments is not unique in this assessment of the market. Agilent Technologies states “PXI is currently the dominant standard for modular instrumentation. It’s a mature technology and is widely used.”
The final segment was a study of tools for students. Tools should not limit students from becoming the innovators of the future. “Tools should not limit experimentation” said Robert Morton, MD of National Instruments in Britain & Ireland. We must foster innovation and experimentation and he drew example from Thomas Alva Edison, possibly the greatest inventor of the modern era. What are the obstacles nowadays to duplicating his work and his labaratories? They are cost, accessibility and ratio. In the 80s a solution of sorts was found in the emergence of simulation but again it was realised that this had limitations and since the mid-nineties we have witnessed the the resurgence of hands-on, project-based learning. Present day graduates have the opportunity experience of actual physically handling test equipment and conducting experiments at home with NI Elvis and myDAQ, the so-called “Lab in your bag”. He quoted the Director for Teaching and Learning at his alma mater, University of Manchester, Dr Danielle George said “A major contributor to this success has been the adoption of a standard teaching platform from National Instruments…” as well as the somewhat more robust comments from students like: “I love it when ELVIS is in the building :-)” “Why didn’t we get a myDAQ in the first year??” or “ELVIS II has really enhanced my learning!”
Kyle Voosen concluded the event again stressing their message that National Instruments is about “Equipping engineers and scientists with tools that accelerate innovation and discovery.”
There was ample opportunity to discuss particular aspects with the presenters and other National Instrument people. Also present were Ian Bell, their Business Development Manager and Mark Gradwell (@mjg73 on twitter) their Marketing Communications Manager.