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Best U.S. Electronic Conference? NIWeek Is a Big Success

The U.S. doesn’t really have a generic electronic industry conference.  Most conferences are events focused on particular fields of specialization like cellular, embedded, microwave, or EDA.  But NIWeek comes close to being a good generic conference as any I have seen.  I just spent the last few days at the conference here in Austin, Texas.

NIWeek is National Instruments’ annual event that focuses on its virtual instrument and software products.  But despite that focus, the conference turns out to be a pretty good overview of what is going on in the electronics industry.  The main reason for this is that the NI test and measurement virtual instrument products are so widely used.  Practically every industry and company uses them in some way.  The conference brings all these diverse companies and suppliers together to exchange ideas and information and to get a look at the latest technologies.  Their daily keynote events are major dog and pony shows of the latest technology and hot topics.

This year NIWeek had a peak attendance of 3300 with 103 exhibitors.  The main exhibitor is NI, of course, but the others are component suppliers to NI as well as companies using NI products in their own products and services.  This includes mechanical vendors as well as many electronic companies.  Lots of mechatronics like robots.

And that’s not all.  There were hundreds of workshops and sessions covering a huge range of electronic technologies.  These sessions are excellent for keeping yourself up to date on the latest developments and methods.  It is electronic school for engineers.

Some of the new products introduced this year include the latest version of NI’s flagship software known as LabVIEW.  LabVIEW is 25 years old this year.  It was created back in 1986 for the first Apple Mac.  It took advantage of the first mouse and Apple GUI to create a program that allows engineers to program using graphical methods.  The software uses a structured dataflow representation that closely resembles actual circuits and block diagrams compared to other traditional forms of programming.  You can build an application in minutes by just interconnecting icons on the screen.  Add to that some NI hardware, and you have a system to do what you want.  Their latest version of LabVIEW expands its hardware integration ability, adds engineering specific libraries, and provides support for the latest Microsoft .NET framework.  LabVIEW is a constant work in process and just gets better and more useful every year.

NI also introduced some new additions to its compact RIO data acquisition product line and their Compact DAQ data logger line.  A most interesting addition is their 14 GHz vector signal analyzer.  NI has made great progress in building their PXI/LabVIEW-based wireless test products and this is an example of coming from behind in this competitive field.  NI’s recent acquisition of wireless powerhouses Phase Matrix and AWS promises to bring forth some even more advance wireless test instrumentation.

I also saw the latest in educational products from NI.   Their new USRP software-defined radio platforms promise to improve and simplify the lab instruction for wireless college courses.  And these units should also be a great base for SDR design and development.  NI is strongly committed to education with LabVIEW and their lab trainers like the ELVIS II and myDAQ products.  They are also in the textbook business with their NTS Press division.

I go to many conferences during the year but NIWeek always stands out as one of the best as it not only is a good look at the big electronics picture but also directly addresses the needs of the working engineers.  Or maybe I have just drunk too much of the NI “kool-aid”.  If you can stand the August heat in Austin (It was over 105 degrees every day of the conference this year.) give some consideration to NIWeek next year.  You can watch our videos from this year’s event on Engineering TV: http://www.engineeringtv.com/playlist/NI-Week-2011.  And check out www.ni.com .

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