I reported earlier on NIWeek keynote addresses from Dr. James Truchard, CEO, and Eric Starkloff, VP of product marketing. The session continued with the introduction of LabVIEW 2012, a new version that includes productivity and quality-improvement features. Sample projects and templates are part of this version—they allow a user to start with a common application and immediately run it. Or, that application can easily be modified to better match the actual application. Sample programs are fully annotated. Associated with these capabilities is the opt-in-only “User Experience Improvement Program.” If a user selects this option, NI is better able to understand how to further improve the sample programs and templates.
In addition, the CompactDAQ product line now has a new 4-slot Ethernet chassis and a new timing/synch module. In addition, there is a new stand-alone product based on an Intel dual-core processor. It is aimed at applications like in-vehicle monitoring, but is appropriate for many DAQ jobs in which a PC is not wanted. Once data has been collected, it can be reviewed via DIADEM. A further demo showed the capabilities of CompactRIO to control engines. In this case, LabVIEW code implements closed-loop control on an FPGA.
At a very high level, NI and IBM have been working together to improve abstraction. Both companies have quality-management tools that complement each other. An IBM vice president described the positive results experienced with the combined tools when customers evaluated an adaptive speed control unit. The combined tools better linked test requirements to the test components needed, and provided clear traceability of the process.
In another segment of the session, a representative from DynaPower Corp. explained how NI's generic power inverter controller helped shortened development of a special battery controller. The job was to manage the charge/discharge of a unique carbon battery so that its advantages could be exploited: very deep discharge together with a long of charge/discharge cycle life.
A life-sciences application brought back to the stage Mike Wiltberger, founder/CEO of OptiMedica. This time, he was showing a newly developed and LabVIEW-based cataract instrument. The “Catalys” machine uses a precisely and safety-interlocked laser to inscribe a circular “cut line” on the membrane covering the patient's lens and also helps to break up the lens itself, making its removal easier. One of the advantages of a near-perfect circular opening in the membrane is easier insertion and more certain placement of the new artificial lens.
Finally, Charles Schroeder presented the NI PXIe 5644R Vector Signal Transceiver. This truly is a new type of instrument and a paradigm shift. It is the first example of what Schroeder called software designed instrumentation. Sure, there are hardware mixers and oscillators, but the actual data conversion clock rates and all subsequent stages of digital signal processing are described by LabVIEW code. And, the really big thing, you have access to it. You can drill down in the triggering, acquisition, generation, and analysis areas to accomplish the detailed custom algorithms you need in your application. You can redesign the instrument so that the measurement you need to perform actually happens “natively.” That's a big deal, and already has made a large test time difference at Qualcom and other early adopters.
Following the keynote, I attended a presentation in the Big Physics Summit by Mike Dunne, director of the National Ignition Facility, part of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab. The individual light beams from a group of absolutely massive lasers–each 300' long–is focused onto a tiny sample of duterium or tritium. As Dunne often commented, “If we get this right…” one pulse of the several-MW lasers will heat the sample to the point that it will start a fusion reaction, releasing up to 10-MW of power. Today, they have got to the 3-kW level and estimate that the lasers need to be better controlled by a factor of about 10 to achieve the level of fusion anticipated. In addition to Big Physics, there are summits on Aerospace and Defense, Energy Technology, RF & Wireless, Robotics and autonomous vehicles, and Vision.
A panel session in which an executive panel responds to both prepared and spontaneous questions has become a set piece in the NIWeek calendar. This year, Dr. Truchard (Dr. T); Eric Starkloff, vice president of system platforms product marketing; Alex Davern, COO, CFO, and executive vice president; and Victor Mieres, vice president of sales and marketing, Asia/Pacific, made up the panel. After a few initial prepared questions, the panel took questions from the audience of editors and financial consultants.
Many people were concerned about the Euro crisis. Alex Davern responded, stressing as he has done in past years, the financial strength and independence of NI. But, he also emphasized the seriousness of the situation and in particular the human toll it has taken and will, in his view, continue to take for quite a while. There is no short term fix, Mr. Davern continued, but a difficult choice to either stay in the EC and Euro group or to leave. Staying implies further austerity and continued reduction in a country's standard of living.
Vector Signal Transceiver
On a more technical note, many questions were asked during the session and afterwards about the new PXIe 5644R Vector Signal Transceiver. The company claims this is the first truly “software designed instrument” with the benefit of user-defined functionality. It also is the subject of several patents. As Eric Starkloff explained and Dr. T. confirmed, giving users access to the very low level innards of an instrument could on the one hand offer tremendous opportunities and on the other be a recipe for disaster. A unique software architecture that partitions and protects each section of code is a key to the success of the “software designed instrument” concept. Without going into detail, Starkloff said the architecture ensures that, for example, you can change how the data is analyzed without affecting the calibration of the measurement result.
To better support the anticipated industry interest in this instrument (and future products yet to be announced also based on this concept) NI has been strengthening its customer support capabilities. The PXIe 5644R ships with an assortment of sample projects and templates, all compatible with LabVIEW 2012.
View my earlier report from NIWeek here.
See previous Online Exclusive: “New Breed of Semiconductors Demands New Breed of Semi Characterization and Test Solutions.”