The latest announcements from National Instruments at NIWeek focused on software. EDN takes a deeper look.
For the past six years I've reported from NIWeek, National Instruments' annual technical conference, full of breaking news of NI's latest hardware and software developments. This week is my seventh consecutive NIWeek, and I expected the same.
So, you can imagine the surprise in Press Room, when NI chose to focus on four new software products—LabVIEW 2018, FlexLogger, SystemLink, and InstrumentStudio. The only new hardware introduction was ELVIS III, a system for project oriented prototyping and measurement in education. Even that depended extensively on software.
In many ways, this was "Back to the Future" for NI, whose reputation is that of a software company. In fact, the theme for NIWeek this year was Future Faster, and included a replica of the DeLorean DMC-12 used in the movie Back to the Future.
With that in mind, let's look at the four software products.
Last year, EDN covered the introduction of LabVIEW NXG, a version of LabVIEW promising increased ease of use for certain applications, created on a new code base. It offered a subset of LabVIEW capability, prompting NI to ship both products together for a single price. This initiated significant discussion of the fate of LabView proper, which NI promised would continue to be enhanced.
Indeed that is the case. LabVIEW 2018 promises more capability for power users. Among the new features include enhanced floating-point operations for FPGA development and native Python script calls through the new Python node. The Python capability is interesting, as it indicates increased adoption of Linux by test and measurement users.FlexLogger
FlexLogger is an entirely new product from NI, focused on eliminating programming for CompactDAQ, NI's platform for physical data acquisition. It is a standalone product that uses configuration-based workflows to acquire and log synchronized, mixed measurements that you may find in powertrain or other mechatronic applications. “Characterizing a combine harvester drive train requires a mix of different measurements including pressure, temperature, current, CAN and shaft speed,” said Andy Tarman, lab test engineer at CNH Industrial. "FlexLogger makes it easier to troubleshoot and verify that the raw data from different sensors are correct before I start my test."
SystemLink is a new standalone software product from NI aimed at managing deployed systems through a centralized web interface. These systems may be test systems, or factory automation based on the Internet of Things. According to NI, SystemLink makes it possible for engineers and managers to remotely configure and deploy software, monitor the health and performance of their equipment, manage alarms, and visualize application parameters. NI demonstrated the ability of SystemLink to send text messages as an alarm, such as when three consecutive devices failed at a test system. SystemLink also allows an engineer to remotely load new or different software into a test system, and restart the tester.
This is an interesting product to anyone who has ever integrated a modular test system composed of faceless instruments. How do you debug it without a front panel display? Of course, you can do this eventually through software, but it doesn’t have the same intuitive ease of use as a traditional box instrument. InstrumentStudio is another standalone product from NI, but aimed at improving the interactive capabilities of otherwise faceless PXI instruments. It is essentially a soft front panel for an instrument that can run during test sequence execution. The soft-front panel mimics the model of a traditional instrument with a traditional display. The product steals CPU cycles to do this, but can be turned off once debugged and ready to execute at full speed. Multiple displays can be shown simultaneously.
A soft front panel from InstrumentStudio displays results while tests are executing on a device under test. Photo by Larry Desjardin.
There’s another key feature of InstrumentStudio as well. An engineer can use the soft front panel of the instrument as a manual interface. Operate it like a traditional instrument with buttons, dials, and keypad. Once you manually configure the product to make the measurement, you can save the state to be executed by an automated test later. This has long been a feature of box instruments, and is now available with modular instruments. InstrumentStudio is included with the purchase of an NI PXI instrument or can be downloaded from the internet.
Simulating box instrument behavior to increase test development effectiveness? Perhaps that’s the real Back to the Future.—Larry Desjardin is a regular contributor to EDN's Test Cafe. He served in several R&D and executive management positions with Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.