No boxes with magic pixies at Westminster!

“So many great presentations today at #NIDaysUK …. We’re like a bunch of kids in the sweetie shop!” (A tweet on the day!)

Robert Morton, MD of National Instruments UK & Ireland welcomes delegates.

Youth, excitement and enthusiasm! These were the first impressions at the event organised by theNational Instruments Ireland and UK organisation in the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre just across from historic Westminster Abbey and its famous school.

Releases at NIDays
Among the best in the world!
Customisable Monitoring and Control Systems
PXI programmable resistors
Finalists in the 2012 Graphical System Design Achievement Awards
Labview 2012: New version improves scalability of measurement & control systems
First all-hybrid PXI express chassis features 8 Links to Every Slot
NI unveils industry’s fastest PXI embedded controller with 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor
Software defined radio module used in leading 5G wireless research
Co-operation with Cardiff University on nonlinear RF network analysis technology
Vector nnetwork analyser cuts cost of test
Spectrum monitoring receiver
DAQ system for high-performance embedded measurements and logging
3-D Vision for seamless hardware and software integration
Support for USB3 Vision Standard

Although called NIDays (the US equivalent is NI Week which takes rather longer!) it was in fact held on one day, 20th November 2012 although the number of threads or tracks (eleven in all) meant that one had to be very aware of what exactly one wanted to attend and indeed in our experience there were some unavoidable clashes which we have had to try to catch up on using twitter. (NI Days are held in many venues throught the world and we are giving our impressions on the one for Ireland and Great Britain.)

Keynote one
The event opened with the keynote address from National Instruments co-founder Dr James Truchard, who is President and CEO. Dr T as he is known throughout the organisation gave an interesting run down on the development of the company and the technology leading to the 21st centuray offering presented today. Moore’s Law is a computing term which originated around the 70s; the simplified version of this law states that processor speeds, or overall processing power for computers will double every two years. What occured during the history of National Instruments was quite revolutionary in that the unit in the process control loop of sensor – instruments – final control element, has changed. Thus the central item, the instrument, is no longer hardware but software and it is no longer separated but embedded within the system. This has an important impact on process and testing procedures not always understood within the automation sector.
He encapsulated the impact of the technologies. “To do for test and measurement what the spreadsheet did for financial analysis.” and “To do for embedded what the PC did for the desktop.”  In the end it is all “about virtual instrumentation.”

As part of this introductory session NI’s Regional Academic Marketing Engineer, Graham Green, presented exciting insights ito several developements including such diverse applications as CERN, Astronautical applications, to academic projects which while apparantly had little practical application they did help train the engineers of the future in learning the possibilities of what can be done.

Mathew Surridge, Portsmouth University, explains the Quadcoptor (on right)

One of these was presented by a student from Portsmouth University, Matthew Surridge, who with his collegues produced an unique flying macine model – the Quadcopter – using FPGA( field-programmable gate array) and a Real-Time Processor, Digital & Serial I/O and LabVIEW. The actual unit was on stage and was allowed show some of its paces but, for health and safety reasons, and to the disapointment of at least one attendee, its flying was confined to a small transparent container. However we did see a short video of the unit in controlled flight.

Stig at NI Days!

In another memorable demonstration this time of in-vehicle logging using racing cars an apparantly anonomous Racing Driver (right) came on stage to opearate the system for us. This was later revealed to be the indefatigable Dr T. (We learned a new term “Stig” here and displayed our ignorence of current British television programmes!)

There was a brief presentation on the delivering of clean power developed to enable mobile comms infrastructure in rural Africa by Dr Mike Rendall with Diverse Energy’s  “Powercube.” And two medical Doctors showed passive acoustic detection using LabVIEW and NI FlexRIO to improve ultrasonic tumour therapy.

This keynote was catagorised well on twitter: “Stimulating start to #NIdaysuk with exciting short presentations, medical, scientific, industrial, academic, environmental, and fun apps!”

That it certainly was!

Unfortunately we missed the panel discussion,“Are New Engineering Graduates Ready for Industry?” This formidable panel comprised Mike Sutton, Technical Fellow at Lubrizol, Jose Lopes, Head of Technical Excellence at Jaguar Land Rover, Prof Martin Levesley, Director of Teaching & Learning at Uni of Leeds, Dr Rhys Morgan, Head of Secretariat to E4E, Raspberry Pi co-founder, Dr Robert Mullins and NI CEO, Dr James Truchard. The panel was moderatored  by John Pullan, Editor of Environmental Engineering.

Tweets emintaing from this were very stimulating: “Who should be doing more to graduate engineers ready for industry? Companies? governments? universities? Who is at fault.” “Dr Rhys Morgan, Education for Engineering (E4E) raised chuckle in #NIDaysUK panel discussion ‘computers not just boxes with magic pixies in..'” I was sorry to have missed this however later on the press people had a discussion with Dr Robert Mullins and the unique Raspberry project which helped fill in some of the matters raised.

All through the day the exhibition areas were open and were well attended throughout and there were also multiple opportunities for hands-on technical sessions.

This is it! Costs less than €30.00

Keynote two
The keynote in the afternoon was delivered by Dr Robert Mullins, who is a co-founder and trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This  isa charity, of which this writer was unaware to foster the interest of  school-going youth in  computer science in particular and in the almost unlimited possibilities available through this discipline. The Raspberry Pi computer has sold in the hundreds of thousands since its launch earlier this year (2012). The hope is that these flexible low-cost machines will help build a generation that can confidently control, adapt and exploit the digital world. This talk described the Raspberry Pi story so far, the motivation for the project and the journey since launch. He described some of the projects that are exploiting the Raspberry Pi and the significant challenges that must be overcome to ensure the original goals are met. His Foundation created the Raspberry Pi computer with the hope of helping to inspire, enthuse and educate the next generation of scientists, designers and engineers and it appears that the success so far extending far beyond Britain shows the validity of this hope.

We than heard Kyle Voosen, appointed last year as Marketing Director, NI UK & Ireland, then explored the frontiers of LabVIEW. Examining an exciting variety of applications, prototypes and research, from mobile measurements and cloud integration to high-level synthesis and multirate digital signal processing.

All in all it was a worthwhile experience with measurable excitement and the ageless exuberence usually associated with youth.

Other Reports

NI, Raspberry Pi and the next generation of engineers (Electronic Product Design 21/11/2012)

Industry must attract more graduates, says NI’s CEO (Electronics Weekly 26/11/2012)

National Instruments CEO Dr James Truchard (Jon Exell, The Engineer 27/11/2012)

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