One of My Favorite Conferences

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While the conference is an NI marketing tool, it is more than that. It is also a view of what is going on in the electronics industry.

Last week (August 4-8) National Instruments held their annual NIWeek conference in Austin, TX.  This was the 20th NIWeek and it proved to be another happy event.  Despite the 100 degree Austin weather, just under 4000 engineers showed up to see what is going on in the National Instrument (NI) world.  I have been attending this conference since 2000 and it is one of the shows I look forward to each year.  While the conference is an NI marketing tool, it is more than that.  It is also a view of what is going on in the electronics industry.

NI as you probably know is the inventor of the popular graphical programming software LabVIEW that was introduced in 1984.  It is used in just about every engineering endeavor in the world.  NI is also the leader in the field of virtual instrumentation.  The company is one of the founders of the PXI format of instruments and probably the market leader in this test and measurement sector.  NI is also a leader in the data acquisition field.  What NIWeek does is showcase the incredibly wide application of NI products in virtually every engineering and scientific sector.

As usual, NI uses the show to introduce its new products.  There are too many to detail here but take a look at some of the highlights.  For example, each year LabVIEW gets an upgrade.  This year the LabVIEW  upgrades are designed to help users acquire, analyze and visualize data sets to make faster informed decisions.  The 2014 version standardizes the way users interact with hardware through reuse of the same code and engineering processes across multiple systems.  LabVIEW 2014 includes a DataFinder so users can search data anywhere, new algorithms including files to NI Linux Real-time and vision functions for FPGAs, and a data dashboard to create mobile interfaces to visualize acquired data without a mobile developer.

Following on NI’s popular software-designed instrument, the vector signal transceiver, this year they introduced four new wireless instruments such as a 14-bit 250 MS/s 300 MHz 8-channel oscilloscope, a 26.5 GHz RF vector signal analyzer (VSA), a 12-bit 2 GS/s, 2 GHz IF digitizer, and a 12.5 Gb/s, 8 TX/8 RX lane serial instrument.  The new VSA has the widest bandwidth of any VSA….765 MHz!  The NI software-designed instruments all contain a user-programmable FPGA that is programmed via LabVIEW.

A major introduction this year was NI’s Semiconductor Test System, an automated test system using PXI-based instruments.  It is expected to greatly reduce test cost for RF and mixed-signal devices.   Another key new product is the CompactDAQ 4-slot controller that integrates the processor, signal conditioning and I/O into a single compact data acquisition system.  This reduces overall system cost and complexity while increasing measurement accuracy.  This new product greatly reduces the number of separate components, the connections and wiring, and the need for a separate computer.  The CompactDAQ controller features an Intel Atom 3800 dual-core processor that can run Windows Embedded 7 or NI Linux Real-Time.

NI continues to support the engineering education field with it lab products.  This year they featured the myRIO product and showed how colleges were using it to teach FPGAs, embedded programming and interfacing.  The compact myRIO features a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processore and a Xilinx FPGA with customizable I/O in a compact low cost module that students can purchase and use to learn controls, robotics, mechatronics, and embedded concepts.  With NI’s courseware and tutorials students can use myRIO to design real engineering systems faster than ever.

Another new education product is NI’s VirtualBench, an all in one virtual instrument for college labs.  It includes a dual trace 100 MHz oscilloscope, a function generator, DMM, logic analyzer, and multiple power supplies all for $1799 compared to almost $6000 for equivalent separate boxes.

As for the exhibits, over 100 vendors showed off their products and services that use NI resources.  An example is electronic distributor, Mouser’s new MultiSIM BLUE, a specialized version of NI’s popular circuit design software.  This all in one tool includes schematic capture, simulation, PCB layout and BOM.  It features over 100,000 components and Mouser’s parts data base.

A highlight of the show was a panel headed up by NI CEO Dr. James Truchard that discussed the forthcoming fifth generation (5G) wireless.  NI is working with an impressive group of wireless experts to finalize the definition of 5G.  It appears that 5G will feature a large number of small coverage cells operating in the millimeter wave bands such as 28 GHz, 38 GHz, 60 GHz and higher using massive MIMO and agile beamforming antennas.  Look for 1 Gb/s+ data speeds and 5G around 2020.

To see all of the latest NIWeek announcements go to www.ni.com  for an update.  And next August you may just want to check out the NIWeek event.

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Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel is the Communications Technology Editor for Electronic Design Magazine where he writes articles, columns, blogs, technology reports, and online material on the wireless, communications...
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