Systems Integration

NI Week capped by Mindstorms NXT introduction


Sep 18, 2006

FOR MORE than eight years, National Instruments (NI, has been working with the Tufts Center for Engineering Educational Outreach and Lego Education on the development of the Lego Mindstorms robot toy, and its applications in science education. The week before NI Week this year, Lego announced the next generation of Mindstorms—Mindstorms NXT.

Lego and NI jointly developed the Lego Mindstorms software beginning in 1998, and it’s been an open secret that the software bundled with Lego Mindstorms NXT is actually a version of NI's flagship LabView software with a "kid-friendly" graphical user interface. NI announced during NI week that beginning in December, LabView would have a plug-in to allow it to be used directly with the Mindstorms NXT robots.

In other news at NI Week, the company celebrated the 20th anniversary of LabView by announcing the availability of LabView 8.20, which has some significant new features, including the ability to run mathscript. This is a new, simplified process for calling DLLs, which is the ability to call .NET Web services directly from Labview, and the ability to use OPC UA.

     Mindstorms NXT

Built with sophisticated sensors for sound, vision and touch, and powered by National Instruments' Labview software, Lego robots are key to science education.

NI speakers dwelled on the theory espoused in the book The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, which is subtitled "Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More." This is NI’s core philosophy, says Dr. James Truchard, NI's CEO, in an interview with Control's Walt Boyes, "to work with the long tail of the automation world, rather than the dense part of the curve, because those applications are the ones that NI can bring the most value to, and where the opportunities are larger."

Dr. Truchard, as well as other speakers throughout the week, continued to expound on the concept of a single design element (NI and LabView) from concept to deployment. "You can design your project," Dr. Truchard added, "and then use NI FPGA modules to prototype, and make short production runs, while using the LabView validation tools, and you can even deploy your product using high-volume chipsets like Blackfin for final production."

When asked why NI seemed to have only one or two toes in the process automation market, and most of the time seemed directed to the embedded devices market, Dr. Truchard noted that the embedded devices market was huge, close to $30 billion, much larger than the PLC market, and had few large automation suppliers as competitors. "We expect," he said, "to do for embedded what the PC did for software."