This week Senior Editor Melanie Martella is at NI Week, National Instruments' customer conference and trade event. The big news from NI Week this year is the 20th anniversary celebration of LabVIEW, the company's graphical design platform that's become a de facto standard for development of test, control, and embedded systems. LabVIEW is widely praised, even by some curmudgeonly engineers generally not prone to enthusing.
I got a sneak preview of LabVIEW 8.20 (so named to remind you of the 20th anniversary) recently and found a handful of features particularly compelling.
Measurement as Part of Design Flow
During the preview, Director of Software Marketing John Pasquarette and LabVIEW Group Manager Kamran Shah demonstrated the value of 8.20's impressive execution improvement for PID loops and for the software's simulation module (up to 14 and 9 times, respectively). They showed me how Doug Jones at the University of Illinois has used LabVIEW to assist his intelligent hearing aid project.
A major problem with hearing aids is that they tend to amplify background clatter as much as they do the desired voice (e.g., your dining partner in a noisy restaurant). Thanks to LabVIEW's speed improvement, Jones has been able to modify values in his algorithm and immediately determine their effectiveness in focusing on the sound of interest. It is a joy to see how this makes his development flow easily and productively.
The goal, says NI, is to integrate measurement into the design flow. "Nobody believes simulation results except for the simulation guy. Everybody believes test results except for the test guy," says Pasquarette. This part of the new LabVIEW addresses that disconnect.
And, oh, by the way, Jones developed his theory in MatLab and was able to transport the algorithm directly into LabVIEW with the new MathWorks integration module.
Furthering the Power of FPGAs, Etc.
Another improvement that caught my fancy is the FPGA module, including a wizard that lets you, for instance, design your own FPGA board. FPGAs enable powerful parallel processing, and the module adds new machine monitoring functions for implementing filters, alarming, and measurements so engineers can build sophisticated machine protection systems with significantly less effort.
I also appreciate the 2X performance improvement of Ethernet-based communications for distributed systems and the now-native support for Modbus and OPC. Those working with high channel count systems will certainly appreciate the configuration tools that let them dynamically define up to 2500 channels.
Enabling Better Design
As I noted in my August editorial, and as Doug Jones' example demonstrates, it is difficult to overstate the impact of LabVIEW on sensor development and application. NI says the original vision for LabVIEW was to do for the engineer what spreadsheet software does for the financial analyst. The company reached this goal years ago, and continues to make impressive improvements to enable important engineering productivity gains.