The best just keep getting better. Version 8.5 of National Instruments' Lab- VIEW graphical programming environment brings a lot to the design table, like enhanced multicore support including integration with FPGAs.
Among its impressive improvements, NI has spruced up LabVIEW's multicore support. LabVIEW has supported multithreading for years, but the plethora of multicore platforms makes it more important for developers to be able to understand what's going on and tune the systems.
Of course, a graphical solution is right up LabVIEW's alley, and this iteration makes load monitoring and balancing easier. It also lets developers associate cores with particular aspects of an algorithm. Integration with LabVIEW Real-Time permits multicore tuning on embedded platforms, including those with symmetricalmultiprocessing (SMP) support.
The Real-Time Execution Trace Toolkit 2.0, which addresses memory as well as threading, helps designers perform debugging using the LabVIEW graphical interface. The ability to manage memory using the new block diagram structure (instead of modifying arrays and other data structures) can be useful and lead to more efficient applications.
New presentation methods seem to keep popping up even as NI tries to limit the changes to the user interface. Most designers will agree that the new state-chart diagram is a much needed adjunct (Fig. 1).
The diagram is available through the Statechart module that's standard in LabVIEW 8.5. Common in graphical programming, state charts are part of the Object Management Group's Unified Modeling Language (UML). They're also found in products like IAR's visualState. State-chart applications tend to migrate nicely to FPGA platforms as well.
State charts map well to LabVIEW's hierarchical graphical presentation. Drilling down into a state can reveal LabVIEW virtual instrument (VI) code. Similarly, a VI can incorporate a state chart with LabVIEW, generating an application from the combined definitions. The graphical debugging and simulation support is maintained for both normal VI code as well as state charts. LabVIEW's realtime extensions apply to state charts as well, allowing them to be used easily in embedded applications.
LabVIEW 8.5 includes many other additions and enhancements that make everyday use of LabVIEW smoother, like exiting a FOR loop or improvements to the textual math support blocks. Likewise, directory synchronization enables file-based management systems to integrate more readily with LabVIEW.
Support for industrial process control applications has seen marked improvement as well. The new changes provide better integration with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that use the Open Process Control (OPC) standard, including support for OPC debugging interfaces. The features are part of the Datalogging and Supervisory Control Module and OPC Servers support.
Things to Come
Highlights from August's NI Week include a number of products and trends in addition to a new version of LabVIEW. For example, the NI- 1742 Smart Camera runs LabVIEW applications on an embedded 533-MHz Power- PC processor with 128 Mbytes of RAM and 128 Mbytes of flash (Fig. 2). It also supports NI's Vision Builder. A pair of Gigabit Ethernet interfaces provides communication.
The Smart Camera is a more compact platform than the typical PC plus USB camera or an embedded solution like NI's CompactRIO and an external camera. While it isn't the first intelligent camera, the Smart Camera is the first to address LabVIEW. It supports external lighting and motion control.
Pricing for LabVIEW 8.5 starts at $1199. Real-Time support is available separately.
National Instruments www.ni.com