Ok. I'm cheating. I had wanted to do a quick hands-on article with the NI Embedded Software Evaluation Kit (Fig. 1). This is based on National Instruments (NI) Single Board RIO. NI did ship one out when it was first released and I did get a chance to work with it on and off since then including mating it up to a couple robot platforms. The Single Board RIO is the same platform used on National Instrument's robot kit I wrote about in Tools Turn Robot Projects Into Child’s Play. I am actually going to forego a long hands-on article this time because so much has been done already.
I don't think I could add much to NI's 5-minute Single Board RIO demo. I did have a discussion on NI Single Board RIO that is on Engineering TV website. Engineering TV is part of Penton Media as is Electronic Design.
The Single Board RIO is based on the same technology as the CompactRIO (Fig. 2). The big difference is the enclosure. CompactRIO has one. Single Board RIO goes inside the one you supply. I did a hands on review of CompactRIO entitled NI-RIO: Fast Prototyping. These boards can work with modules that have 15-pin VGA-style connectors but they are designed to connect the modules to the FPGA found in every system. The FPGA is a front end to the processor that is also part of the system. The kit has a PowerPC processor.
So here it is the eve of NI Week 2010 and I took the system out of the box again. I happen to have LabView running on a virtual machine. I tend to do this with test software in general since I can start out with a clean platform each time. The kit actually comes with a 90 day license for LabView but this will likely translate into a purchase of the latest incarnation of LabView. I don't have the latest LabView 2010 but will hopefully get it soon.
One thing I can add to the mix is that the FPGA support is significantly better than it was when I first tried out CompactRIO. What will surprise most non-LabView developers is how seamless the use of the FPGA is with LabView. The FPGA provides connectivity between the processor and modules. This approach is significant for a number of reason. First, it provides timing synchronization that is critical to test and measurement applications as well as process control applications. Second, the FPGA can contain logic that links two or more modules directly together instead of requiring processor intervention.
The newer production versions of sbRIO include the sbRIO-9601 (Fig. 3). It as a 266 MHz processor, 256 Mbytes of flash, 128 Mbytes of DRAM and 1M gate FPGA. It also has a 10/100BASE-T Ethernet port and RS232 serial port. The sbRIO-9602/9602XT has a 400 MHz processor and a 2M gate FPGA.
Well, the kit goes back into the box until LabView 2010 rolls across my desk. Hopefully then I will have more time to it check out with the latest software. In the meantime, get your own NI Embedded Software Evaluation Kit if you want to try out Single Board RIO-based development. The documentation is excellent and it highlights the power of LabView. It also highlights the graphical nature of LabView (Fig. 4) including the hierarchical nature of the virtual instruments (Fig. 5). I did not provide many details here but I can definitely recommend it based on hands-on use of the dev kit.