The cloistered world of Big Physics will be happy to learn that test, control, and design system specialists National Instruments (NI) has joined forces with Vitrociset, which designs, develops, and manages technical systems and services. Between them, the two companies will provide technical solutions to physicists working on highly complex projects.
While nearly everybody has heard of National Instruments, many designers may be unfamiliar with Vitrociset. Headquartered in Rome, the company has plants there and in Cagliari in Sardinia. Its areas of activity include defence, air traffic management systems, satellite and communication technology, IT and transport systems, and environmental monitoring.
So why collaborate with NI? The answer is that engineers, scientists, and physicists around the world are working to solve various challenges in areas such as particle physics, fusion, and astronomy. Whether it’s programming embedded real-time systems based on multicore processors and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to working with high-speed data acquisition systems requiring timing and synchronisation, such experts need the right software and hardware to help them.
Vitrociset’s work includes developments in highly challenging areas of research. For example, the work includes particle accelerators, which rely on high-speed data acquisition instrumentation and advanced control to propel electrically charged particles to high speeds and contain them. There also is work on fusion devices, which need highly accurate real-time control and analysis.
NI will provide the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and software platforms with the high-speed, high-bandwidth acquisition, timing, and synchronisation and advanced control needed to handle some of the instrumentation and control challenges involved. Vitrociset will integrate the NI COTS hardware and software into its service packages to offer a product portfolio to organisations developing sophisticated physics projects.
“Both NI and Vitrociset have provided a variety of impressive solutions for advanced control projects,” said Stefano Concezzi, director of Big Physics at National Instruments. “Because Vitrociset has a solid reputation and long track record of addressing large, demanding control challenges, we at NI are excited about the many ways we can team up to help streamline the development of Big Physics projects.”
This statement has considerable historic backing. In the past, NI has contributed product solutions to some of the world’s most advanced physics projects, including the CERN Large Hadron Collider and a tokamak fusion device control system at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics.
All of this sounds like a very positive collaboration that will eventually provide beneficial breakthroughs in electronic design. Only one negative thought lurks in the background, though. Historically, Big Physics projects can run into financial problems.
Because of the very complex and intellectually demanding nature of these physics projects, only a few people are able to judge whether they have long-term viability. Those capable of making that judgment are very often the scientists involved in the project. Consequently, objectivity can be blurred.
The physics may be big, but their world is small. And the budgets required to achieve long-term success are typically large. Furthermore, sometimes government funding gets involved, making open and clear financial justification paramount. Putting those considerations aside and given NI’s considerable technical expertise, though, there is a strong possibility that this collaboration will create innovations that will help drive electronics forward.