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NIWeek 2013 Recap

Last week nearly 4,000 engineers, scientists, educators, students, tech enthusiasts, and media members such as myself descended on the Austin Texas Convention Center for the 19th annual National Instruments Graphical System Design Conference. I have attended almost every NIWeek since the beginning and, as soon as I got there, this one felt big. Turns out I was right. NI says it was the largest NIWeek yet. It was a whirlwind three days, but here’s a quick recap of some of what I saw.

NIWeek 2013
The exhibition hall at NI Week 2013 included more than 100 product, systems, integration, consulting, and training services companies. Also in the hall was a technology theater featuring on-going technology presentations and demonstrations of products and services from NI developers, exhibitors, and NI partner companies. Image courtesy of National Instruments.

As is its wont, NI announced several new products during the conference. Of particular interest to DE readers are the 2013 version of the LabVIEW system design software, the new NI cRIO-9068 software-designed controller for embedded control and monitoring, and a new 8-slot NI CompactDAQ Ethernet chassis designed for distributed or remote measurements in extreme environments. More on these in a minute.

NIWeek offered attendees more than 250 interactive technical sessions, case study presentations, industry-focused technical summits, and panel discussions for beginners and advanced developers. Major topic areas included automated test systems, data acquisition, embedded systems, and software development techniques. In addition to its variety of technical sessions, NIWeek attendees had the opportunity to see nearly 300 demonstrations on the main stage as well as throughout the exhibit hall over the course of the three days of public events.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Dr. James Truchard, president, CEO, and cofounder of National Instruments, delivered the opening keynote address for the conference. Dr. T, as they call him at NI, spoke of the evolution of instrumentation from vacuum tubes to software-enabled instrumentation platforms. He believes that we have moved into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and at the hub of this revolution is what he calls cyber-physical systems.

“Cyber-physical systems” refers to the convergence of the digital and physical worlds where everything is linked together, all around us, and operating, say, to keep what we perceive as our world up and running. As such, cyber-physical systems represent an emerging infrastructure in which computation, communications, and control function together and with varying degrees of decision-making autonomy. Smart grids instantly and automatically adjusting for sudden power interruptions or load imbalances would be example of a cyber-physical system.

NI sees its LabVIEW software as well positioned to provide the software development platform for the integrated networks of sensors, devices, and IT equipment that comprise a cyber-physical world.

“We’re seeing the idea of ubiquitous computing and real-time systems becoming center stage to the next industrial revolution,” said Truchard, who added that technology is also “seeing a transition take place to platform-based solutions built around software.”

To that end, NI introduced its new cRIO-9068 software-designed controller for embedded control and monitoring. The cRIO-9068 represents a completely redesigned controller, albeit one that maintains full NI LabVIEW and I/O compatibility with NI’s CompactRIO product line. The cRIO-9068 embodies this idea of platform-based solution: It’s fully software programmable with LabVIEW to perform the functions an engineer assigns it.

NIWeek 2013
The NI cRIO-9068 software-designed controller offers improved hardware performance, programmability with LabVIEW, and full backward compatibility with NI LabVIEW and I/O compatibility with NI s CompactRIO product line. Image courtesy of National Instruments.

The cRIO-9068 controller features a Xilinx Zynq-7020 All Programmable system on a chip (SoC), which combines a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and Xilinx 7 Series FPGA (field programmable gate array) fabric, on a single chip. The cRIO-9068 controller also heralds the arrival of an open platform with its complementary introduction of the NI Linux Real-Time operating system.

NIWeek 2013
NI says that, with LabVIEW 2013, it integrated the latest and most innovative technologies while reducing design complexity from basic measurements to full test platforms. Image courtesy of National Instruments.
NIWeek 2013
The NI cDAQ-9188XT brings ultra-rugged specifications to the NI CompactDAQ platform for the first time. Image courtesy of National Instruments.

NI LabVIEW 2013, the newest version of the company’s system design software for engineers and scientists who are building and using basic measurement systems on up to full test platforms, has been enhanced with native support for the newest hardware from vendors like ARM and Xilinx, which enables higher-performing systems. Version 2013 also offers some new, streamlined deployment technologies for developers who deliver applications to users.

One new feature that drew widespread audience approval during the LabVIEW 2013 rollout demonstrations was a suite of code management, documentation, and review tools. Also drawing enthusiastic crowd approval was the announcement of LabVIEW dashboards for remote monitoring and system control anywhere at any time through iOS and Android mobile platforms.

“LabVIEW 2013 exemplifies our commitment to ensuring that engineers and scientists are equipped with the latest technologies while simplifying the complexity of designing a system that uses these advancements,” said Ray Almgren, vice president of marketing at National Instruments.

From Data Acquisition to Robotics
On the data acquisition front, the NI cDAQ-9188XT made its debut. This 8-slot NI CompactDAQ Ethernet chassis is designed for distributed or remote measurements in extreme environments such as those encountered in the automotive, military and aerospace industries. This device can survive temperatures from -40 to 70 °C as well as 50g of shock and 5g of vibration. Additionally, the unit’s chassis is the first in the NI CompactDAQ platform to offer an onboard watchdog with defined safe states to help protect tests and equipment.

Lots more went down at NI Week, including the unveiling of the NI roboRIO controller, which all teams will use for the 2015 season of the FIRST Robotics Competition, and the NI myRIO, an embedded hardware device to help students design real, complex engineering systems quickly and affordably. In the exhibit hall, there was a demo of a robot being worked on by researchers at the University of Texas-Arlington that uses facial expressions to help diagnose autism in children.

NIWeek 2013
This robot being developed at the University of Texas-Arlington uses facial expressions to help diagnose autism in children. Image courtesy of National Instruments.

Finally, for the first time ever, NI live-streamed the morning keynotes to the NI community across the globe, so technically there were even more attendees at NI Week than reported. You can click here and watch the keynote presentations from the 2013 NI week.

Tony Lockwood, is editor at large for Desktop Engineering. Contact him via de-editors@deskeng.com.

About Anthony J. Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood is Desktop Engineering's Editor-at-Large. Contact him via de-editors@deskeng.com.