NI Week — Awesome Demos

One of the main attractions of NI week was the expo hall. The expo hall is where NI’s non- academic partners, as well as NI get to show off their flashiest projects that are powered by LabVIEW.

In the center of the expo hall was the huge NI village, with multiple sections of demos. I started out in the Embedded systems section of the village.

The entrance to the NI village, follow the grey carpet road.
The entrance to the NI village, follow the grey carpet road.
Networking in the expo hall, or asking for directions.
Networking in the expo hall, or asking for directions.

In the embedded systems section there was a demo that consisted of a “helicopter” that was self balancing and could be controlled by a joystick. The helicopter consisted of a horizontal and vertical fan that turned on and off to change the position of the helicopter.

A video of the helicopter demo in action.

The joystick controller for the helicopter.
The joystick controller for the helicopter.

This demo used the FlexRIO, which has a Kintex 7 FPGA. This FPGA is equivilent to the Digilent NetFPGA-1G-CML. The demo only used about 20% of the FPGA’s resources.

The purpose of this demo was to demonstrate a PID controller in LabVIEW FPGA. A PID controller is a loop that compares a desired value to an actual value, calculates the error, and corrects to try and achieve the desired value.

The helicopter demo, and block diagram of a PID loop.
The helicopter demo, and block diagram of a PID loop.

I thought this demo was particularly interesting because it demonstrated a PID loop in an application other than the usual motor application. Typically PID loops are used to help two motors drive in a straight line. This demo was also the first time I had ever seen LabVIEW FPGA in action. LabVIEW FPGA is a programming environment that allows users to program FPGAs graphically rather than the standard way of writing code.

James standing in front of the LabVIEW FPGA code.
James standing in front of the LabVIEW FPGA code.

As cool as this demo was, I wasn’t the only one wandering around the expo floor. Below are some more stories from other marketing employees.

Dharsan and James checking out some of the other Demos.
James and Dharshan checking out some of the other Demos.

Dharsan:

I saw this awesome braille demo and heartbeat sensor at NI week.  Using LabVIEW, a user would input a sentence and then the NI myRIO would write each letter in braille using six solenoids.  Between each word, a buzzer would beep to notify the person reading.

The heartbeat sensor.
The heartbeat sensor.

This booth also had another demo that calculated your heart rate using a force transducer.  The force transducer was fixed to your finger with a Velcro strap.  When your blood moves through your finger, it exerts a small force on the transducer that can be measured.  The demo then sent the voltage from the transducer to a conditioning circuit to amplify the signal and get rid of noise.  The voltage waveform was then displayed on the LabVIEW front panel along with an indicator for your measured beats per minute value.

The heartbeat sensor.
The heartbeat sensor.

Josh:

The LabVIEW powered smart home was one of my favorite demos shown during the Ni-week expo. There were several aspects of the demo that were pretty cool. First, they used the chipKIT WF32 in the coffee table and the tea stand to communicate with the central “hub”. I’m going to focus on those two, as well as the lighting demo.

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The WF32 controlled smart home.

The tea stand uses the WF32 and LabVIEW to give you almost real-time updates of what teas you have and how full the teapot is.

The teapot demo.
The teapot demo.

The coffee table was designed to communicate with your cell phone. Whenever your phone receives a text message, the WF32 would change the coffee table lights to green. If your phone received a call, it will turn red.

Another cool portion of the smart home was the mood lighting changer. With the Leap tool, you can change hue of lighting with just your fingers!

Martha:

My favorite demo today was Baxter the robot. They use LabVIEW’s framework with the Robot Operating System (ROS). The demo operator explained that Baxter utilizes the Xbox Kinect motion sensor, so when you walk up to the demo any movement you make with your arms is mirrored by Baxter. They also had the Kuka Robot at the demo, but when I came back to get more info from them, Kuka was “resting”. I was able to watch earlier when Kuka was running. The operator would control Kuka to pick up socks and toys and drop them in a little basket.

Baxter in action powered by LabVIEW.
Baxter in action powered by LabVIEW.

Holly:

I enjoyed the Pitsco Tetrix Prime Robotics
 Intrigued by the group of youngsters surrounding the booth containing an automated ball sorting device, I decided to take a closer look at the shiny metal robots with red wheels hoisting NI myRIOs on their backs . The “brain” of the Pitsco Tetrix Prime Robotics platform is the NI myRio.  The language they speak is LabVIEW. .
 The robotic components come as a kit with three options to get you started:  The Rover Vehicle Assembly, The Balancing Arm Assembly and the Self Balancing Robot Assembly.  The myRIO is sold separately.  Step by step instructions get you started easily and functionality can be varied to coordinate with the users beginner to advanced capabilities.  Open source coding with LabVIEW is at the core of the robot, adding a more challenging mix to functionality for the more advanced builder while allowing the novice to jump in and get started right away.
 Particularly exciting were the plug-in options using Digilent’s PmodGyro and  the Digilent Ambient Light Sensor.   On the mechanical side of things the Digilent DC motor and the myRIO Robotics Motor Board Assembly round out more functionality that can start simple and grow with the builder’s abilities.
The robotic mechanical parts from Pitsco Tetrix are not yet open-sourced but  there are some fun parts that can be 3D printed and added to the metal chassis so that each robot can take on a bit of individualistic character.

 

Kids playing with the ball sorting demo.
Kids playing with the ball sorting demo.

James:

NI Week is something else. I knew that I wasn’t on the top end of the knowledge spectrum (so to speak), but here at NI week there are an incredible amount of demonstrations and people there that have achieved things that I have never considered before.

One of the coolest demos that I was able to see was a myRIO controlling a guitar. Through the use of LabVIEW, users were able to choose a song and LabVIEW would read the corresponding music notes and send the information to another controller which controlled all of the pneumatic pumps that played the guitar. To me, this was a great way to showcase multiple systems interacting all with each other in a style that was easy to see.

The stand where the guitar demo was located.
The stand where the guitar demo was located.
The self playing guitar.
The self playing guitar.
The guitar demo.
The guitar demo.

If you ever you have an opportunity to go to NI Week, but aren’t sure if you will get anything out of it, you should go. It’s worth it.

 

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