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A Graphical Tool For Design

I don’t know if this product has ever been labeled a "design tool" since it came on the engineering scene 20 years ago. But it’s been stretching out and improving over the years, starting in test and recently working its way into design. I’m referring to LabVIEW, the flagship product of National Instruments. It’s a graphical programming language, which I’m sure you know. But I witnessed a demonstration at the company’s recent NIWeek conference that made me think that this product has a great future as a design tool. Two graduates of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of New York, Matt Rosmarin and Teresa Bernardi, described how they had used LabVIEW for their senior project. They built a Human and Object Transport Vehicle, a takeoff on the Segway Human Transporter. They described how they had gone from concept to final product in one semester—an awesome achievement. The students explained that, during the design phase, they derived the mathematical model of the mechanical system. Then they created a simulation using LabVIEW’s simulation module. They explained how they were able to test the control system without any physical trial and error. Then they built a small prototype and were able to use the same software developed in the design phase to test the prototype. When the duo finally built the full-size vehicle, they were able to use the same software again with some modifications. Matt Rosmarin offered a very telling comment during the presentation. He said, "We were able to focus on designing and implementing a complex mechatronics project without delving into the low level implementations of subsystems like TCP/IP communications and microcontroller development and programming." In other words, they didn’t get bogged down in this aspect of the design, thanks to LabVIEW. LabVIEW has certainly made its mark in the test and measurement area over the past 20 years. But it seems it’s now starting to make its mark in design as well. (To view a video of the presentation, point your browser to www.ni.com/niweek/keynote_videos.htm) E-mail your comments to me at jdesposito@penton.com

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