National Instruments announces hot products during a cool NIWeek

-May 26, 2017

Arriving in Austin for NIWeek, I knew something was different. NIWeek, the annual technical conference and exposition of National instruments, had been moved from its traditional perch on the first week of August to mid-May. Instead of the usual skin-searing Texas heat surrounding the sweat-drenched attendees, it was actually pleasant. Though the weather was cool, I was hoping that the introductions would be hot.

My report will be in two pieces. This piece will cover the major announcements from NI. I will follow this with a second piece, specifically focused on 5G communications. As frequent readers know, this blog, Test Café, reports on the architectural and business aspects behind the product news, with a particular focus on modular instruments and 5G communications.

On to the announcements! Here are the four five major product announcements by NI. From my conversation on the keynote stage I added a fifth that I felt was significant enough to be included.

LabView NXG

It’s difficult to talk about NI without mentioning its core software program, LabView. The media were given a sneak peak of an entirely new version called LabView NXG, or next generation. We were treated to Jeff Kodowsky, NI cofounder and creator of LabView, describing the impetus behind the new software. Since the early 1990s, NI has been focusing on expanding the capabilities of LabView, somewhat at the expense of users who want things easier, perhaps with no programming at all. “Now we are squarely addressing this with the introduction of LabVIEW NXG”, said Kodowsky, “which we designed from the ground up to embrace a streamlined workflow.”

Indeed, fellow NI-ite Jeff Phillips, demonstrated the discovery, setup, and operation of a data acquisition system with no programming, graphical or traditional, at all. The new LabView NXG supports 400 instruments with this capability, while LabView 2017 (still being developed in a parallel development effort) retains the current 13,000 drivers. NXG performs a subset of the tasks capable in LabView 2017, but does them much easier.



LabView NXG promises a streamlined workflow that eliminates programming completely in some situations.

Confused? So were EDN Senior Technical Editor Martin Rowe and I, so we engaged Phillips in a private conversation to get to the bottom of what this all means. The best analogy we found (unapproved by NI, but useful) was Microsoft’s introduction of NT; even while the DOS-origined versions of Windows 95 and the like continued. NT focused on a specific segment, higher end server market, while desktops were temporarily served by Windows 95, 98, and the like. But the NT technology was the future for everything.

And such it is with LabView. NI focused on a specific segment, entry-level data acquisition, with its first release of NXG. It is written new from the bottom up, though critically, the compiler is the same. NI will continue to develop LabView 20xx for some time, while moving more and more of its functionality to NXG each year. At some time, say three to five years, all functionality will be in LabView NXG and on the new code base. Until that time, LabView will be shipped with both versions. Each can use code developed by the other, and the compiler is the same between the two, easing the transition. Think of the current 20xx stream for the performance user, and the NXG for simpler tasks and reduced workflow, but the performance applications moving to NXG over time, until the only thing left is … LabView NXG.

ATE core configurations

NI introduced two “core configurations” for ATE, which consisted each of a rack with core mechanical, power, and safety infrastructure. One rack was 24U high, the other 40U. After that, there are a number of options, driven by the customer’s specific application. This is all before any instruments are added, outside of the power supplies. NI believes this greatly simplifies complex but routine tasks of mechanical integration, and delivers the pre-built racks with essentially zero delivery time.

What caught my eye were the rack-width NI-labeled kilowatt power supplies. Whoa! This is “boxes not suited for automation” NI adopting a traditional form factor for an instrument category. There’s a LAN interface. There are even knobs and a display on the front panel. This is as unheard of as NIWeek temperatures dropping to the 60s. Of course, this is also entirely logical. The 1U form factor is ideal for a system power supply. But I couldn’t help myself from some good-hearted ribbing on the show floor. In this case, NI is thinking inside the box.

cDAQ TSN


Compact DAQ, abbreviated cDAQ, is a data acquisition platform from NI. Last year NI introduced TSN, or time sensitive networking, for the CompactRIO line, which includes control. Essentially, TSN is a clever approach that allows Ethernet to carry precision time information. With this introduction, NI has expanded their adopting of the TSN concept from data acquisition and control systems, to pure data acquisition systems.

MTS-28

Now we enter the world of 5G. MTS is short for mmWave Transceiver System, and the 28 refers to the new 28 GHz head. Essentially, this product enables the creation of a prototype 28 GHz 5G system. I reported extensively on NI’s first MTS, focused on the 71-76 GHz bands. Now, with a changing of the head, NI can add the 27.5 to 29.5 GHz band. NI showed a real-time channel sounder developed by AT&T using this technology. You can read about it here. I’ll write more about NI’s 5G toolset in my upcoming 5G column.


Here is the receiver end of the AT&T 5G channel sounder as shown at NIWeek. The rack is mobile and can move at up to 8 miles per hour. The sounder is capable of displaying channel parameters in real time, as shown by the waterfall diagram in the attached display.


PXIe-7915 FlexRIO

This is the announcement I’ve added to the list. I’ve written previously how FlexRIO is critical to NI’s architectural platforms. These are the FPGA modules that can be programmed by LabView FPGA. The new PXIe-7915 takes advantage of Xilinx’s UltraScale technology that offers more density, faster DSPs, and faster serial lanes. The density also allows NI to offer half the PXI module for users to customize. They can interface to the FPGA’s serial ports to add their own front ends. Previously, they had to add their own front ends outside the module, in front. This limited the customizable portion to 5 W, a mismatch with high speed FPGAs. Now they can take advantage of the PXI chassis’ power and cooling features to add high power data converters of their own. I’ll write more about this product in my upcoming 5G coverage of NIWeek.


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, and currently manages a consulting company, Modular Methods.

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