Electronic Design

NIWeek Wrap Up

One of the best conferences I go to each year is NIWeek. Another has come and gone, but like always I got a glimpse at some solid technology from the mega-company. National Instruments has been sponsoring their own conference here in Austin, TX for several years now, and it has become a solid industry event. Why? Simply because NI’s products like LabVIEW software, data acquisition hardware, and virtual instruments have become so widely used. The conference is NI’s way of introducing its new products as well as showcasing the products and services of those you using NI products or contributing to them. The diversity is enormous. In any case, NIWeek was held last week from August 5 through 7. Our publisher Bill Baumann, editor-in-chief Joe Despostio,a and embedded editor Bill Wong were also in attendance this year to scope out the new technology.

As usual, the keynotes were the highlight of the conference. Over 2500 attendees saw the keynotes and attended a wide range of sessions. These keynote presentations by NI CEO James Truchard and other NI executives get flashier and more elaborate each year. I heard one exec say that they spend a good bit of time preparing for these and practicing. These presentations are not only entertaining but also informative and the use this platform to introduce their major new products. Click here to watch some videos from the event. Also, there were about 100 exhibitors of applications using NI products. NI’s own displays showed the wide range of things they are offering.

Some of the new items this year include LabVIEW 8.6, the next generation of NI’s core software product. This new version builds on the inherent parallel nature of graphical programming to help users take advantage of the benefits of multicore processors, FPGAs and wireless communications. The new version is designed to work with NI’s new CompactRIO devices and Wi-Fi DAQ wireless products. Speaking of wireless, NI also introduced their new 6.6-GHz vector signal generator and vector signal analyzer as well as the new PXIe chassis for them.

It is difficult to see and hear it all at this conference. so I will tell you what I saw besides the new RF and wireless stuff. For example, I saw NI’s recently introduced ELVIS II. This platform is an updated version of the original ELVIS breadboarding platform introduced several years ago. It has become popular in colleges and universities for lab work, as well as a great platform for those engineers who still need to do some prototyping. Of course, the full set of LabVIEW virtual instruments is available. The new ELVIS II is much more streamlined and the analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and digital-to-analog converter (DAC) are internal. NI also showed some new ELVIS plug-in boards from Emona that let you implement basic labs for communications and fiber optics. Other plug-in board vendors Quanser and Digilent also had displays.

One of the neatest new educational products is the LEGO WeDo, a simple building block LEGO set kids age seven to 11 can use to build and experiment with simple robots. This is a continuation of NI’s collaboration with LEGO on robotic educational toys using LabVIEW as a programming platform. NI has always focused on education, and this year NI VP Ray Almgren, during his keynote, tried to rally engineers to get involved as mentors to students as a way to increase the number of kids going to engineering schools. The U.S. needs engineers, badly.

Finally, there was a big emphasis on green engineering as scientists and engineers try to find ways to conserve energy, improve the environment, and solve other tough problems like monitoring infrastructure.

This year, I was asked again to speak at the conference. On Wednesday, I held my little lecture, called “Wireless Trends You Need to Know.” A few hundred people turned out to hear me give an overview and update on all the latest wireless technologies and trends. That was fun.

Be sure to check out our exclusive video interviews with Richard McDonell, senior group marketing manager for test products, and Gerardo Garcia, product manager for industrial and embedded software. You can read up on other product announcements from NIWeek in our news section of the NIWeek show page. Click here to check out all the events and new products on NI’s Web site. Hope to see you next year at NIWeek ‘09.

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