NI Week – The Academic Forum

Welcome back to the Digilent Blog!

Today we are live from Austin, Texas to showcase some of the things we have seen and loved at the Academic Forum for this year’s NI Week! Each of our attendees will share their personal favorites and provide a snapshot into this amazing event.


The NI Academic Keynote opened with the announcement of the (DSDB) Digital Systems Development Board, for NI’s Elvis Platform! Designed by Digilent, it features a ZYNQ 7020, Pmod and MXP (the same connector that is on the myRIO) expansion, LEDs, slide switches, an onboard 2.8″ capacitive touch display, HDMI, VGA, Audio, Ethernet, MicroSD and on-board programming.

The Digital Systems Development Board.

The board plugs into NI’s flagship academic platform, the Elvis II and is sold and supported by NI’s academic sales channel.

I love the combination of Digilent’s FPGA engineering design and NI’s academic product line. It’s leveraging the best of what each company does well for the benefit of academic curriculum worldwide. For me, it was exciting to see the DSDB be not only featured, but presented and promoted at the keynote!



The Academic Forum keynote always does an excellent job showcasing the amazing ways National Instruments and it’s partners are helping students learn more, and learn faster. This week I was particularly struck with an example of one way that the Analog Discovery 2 was making learning more accessible to students.

The Analog Discovery 2 and accessories.
The Analog Discovery 2 and accessories.

Arizona State University was like most schools with a traditional lab style and setting, providing a great education on campus. However, 4 years ago Dr. Michael Goryll had a student in his class that was excited to learn and always willing to work hard, but was called to duty for the National Guard. After this he was determined to create a lab style where anyone could learn, so they created remote labs with the Analog Discovery 2. This allowed any student to learn, from anywhere. The program was so successful, that they are now creating hybrid labs where students can choose from either the traditional lab setting or the Analog Discovery 2, giving them the flexibility to learn regardless of location.


This was particularly significant to me since for my first two years of education I worked at the Math Learning Center at Shoreline Community College while I was going to school there. I witnessed people from many different places in life striving to learn. Allowing opportunities for these inspired students with flexible programs and the right tools is incredibly impactful.


One of my favorite events from the Academic Forum was the keynote presentation on LabVIEW’s compatibility with mechatronics applications. While watching the keynote I recognized a machine that was very similar to one we might use in the textiles field for evaluating fabric strength. The device tested stress and strain with custom built force transducers, and could pull with about seven tons of force (much more than our machines in the lab).

Mechatronics Keynote

It was extremely cool to watch a demonstration that could be understood from my personal academic background and the machines were very relatable. This also demonstrated how much of an impact this technology can have on a variety of different fields, even if it is in a seemingly unrelated discipline.  I am very much looking forward to researching this field, and applying these concepts to future Digilent Makerspace projects!


During the academic forum I felt like I got a chance to meet many high-level professors and National Instruments employees. I got to show off the seismic box that I worked on using the chipKIT WF32 and the PmodACL2. It was so much fun getting to see people trying it out and watching LabVIEW filter the noise in real time. There were countless professors who would approach us expressing how much they love using our hardware.There was a professor who told us he had every single Pmod from our collection sitting on his desk at the university he teaches at and tells all of his students to use our hardware.

The Pmod Collection.

Being able to make a difference in how people teach, learn and use electronics has been rewarding beyond measure. I love seeing the excitement people have when a piece of hardware changes the way they work, build, and tinker. The Academic Forum was a great place to really recognize what a presence Digilent has in the classroom, laboratories and classroom curriculum.



NI Week revealed something to me that I hadn’t really considered before. Numerous people, professors and NI employees alike, came up to me asking about some of the Pmod videos I have done as well as asking technical question about Pmods that I have personally asked myself. That’s when I realized it’s the extra effort that’s put into the work that you do that makes the difference to people.

When people take the extra time to make sure that their booth is eye catching, or adding some extra comments in their code to help with readability, or provide free reference material and content to the products that they make, people really appreciate it. I’m inspired and encouraged to exemplify that extra effort for the rest of NI Week and am looking forward to seeing the results!

Being someone who has a decent amount of programming experience, but is only casually familiar with LabVIEW, I was eager to see what sort of technical sessions day one of NI Week had to offer. While there was a variety of very advanced LabVIEW-specific sessions, I was pleased to find a few intermediate level offerings which presented topics that were applicable to coding in general, but were discussed in a LabVIEW context.

For example, a session given by a Senior Systems Engineer at NI discussed best practices for creating embedded applications, and while the focus was development in LabVIEW there was an emphasis on things like determining system performance requirements and using that information to make program design decisions. Things like this that were included in talks I attended on Monday, were not only useful in exposing me more to LabVIEW but also for expanding my knowledge base as a programmer.


During the academic forum I met a lot of interesting and knowledgeable people. I got a chance to hook several people up to my ECG Machine but many others declined because they didn’t want to roll down their dress socks.

Picture of DIY ECG using a Analog Discovery 2 and LabVIEW
The ECG Machine in LabVIEW.

Many of them were very excited to hear about the Analog Discovery 2 and  LabVIEW driver that I used to make my ECG. Many professors were excited about the prospect of using the Analog Discovery 2 along with LabVIEW in their classrooms. We also had the SumoBots on display and people were very excited to learn about LINX 3.0 and it’s ability to target the BeagleBone Black and Raspberry Pi. At the keynote I was very impressed by the caliber of the speakers that were presenting and felt like I walked away with some great ideas on how to utilize these great tools!

Stay tuned for our next Live From NI Week blog post, and make sure to check out our Twitter and Instagram to for real time coverage of this incredible week! 

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