Test driving NI LabVIEW Robotics

My NI LabVIEW Robotics adventure taught me a few new things about automation and control hardware and software for robotics. An old dog attempts learning new tricks. Here's what I learned.

12/22/2010


I have a fear that I might be losing my edge and that the world of robotics is rushing past me. A TV producer that I ran into two weeks ago pushed that feeling even farther. He said that China had tested their kids using our national standardized tests and that their lowest 6th grader scored higher than our highest 8th grader. This is a terrible thing to hear. It is time that I expand my horizons and learn something new; I need to "upgrade" what I know. However, I do not want to, which is precisely why I should. It will be good for me to get out of what has become my daily routine, and is sure to be the source of some interesting stories along the way.

Why LabVIEW Robotics?

While there are other robotics software systems out there, I am looking at LabVIEW Robotics first because the company has both the software and the hardware. Getting both from the same company implies compatibility, which is a major concern when trying to integrate software and hardware.  The full working version of the software is available for 30 days at no cost. It can be downloaded from the ni.com website or if you click on the button, they will snail mail it to you on 3 DVD disks free, so I have run out of excuses for not learning more about it.

What can you do with LabVIEW Robotics?

The best example of people using LabVIEW Robotics is the car converted, at Waterloo Labs, so it can be driven wirelessly by iPhone as in the 1997 James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. Check back later for my story about how they did it.

What I have discovered so far:

I discovered that LabVIEW is not single product but instead comes in 32 flavors and 3 parts. The demo disk set I got in the mail is good for 30 days, so I am going to have to study fast. There will be additional cost if I want to keep using the core software and more for the Robotics module add on. Several of the other add on modules look like areas I would like to explore too. There also are tech support fees and annual software maintenance fees to budget for. While this is a bargain for companies that have a commercial use for the product and can earn the money back, the price puts it out of the range of most hobbyists and casual users. However, anyone can learn about it without having to buy it.

DVD 1

  • LabVIEW Development Systems
  • LabVIEW Signal Express
  • Adaptive Filter Toolkit
  • Advanced Signal Processing Toolkit
  • Control Design and Simulation Module
  • Database Connectivity Toolkit
  • DataFinder Toolkit
  • Desktop Execution Trace Toolkit
  • Digital Filter Design Toolkit
  • FPGA Module
  • Internet Toolkit
  • MathScript RT Module
  • Mobile Module

DVD 2

  • LabVIEW FPGA Compile Farm Toolkit
  • Data logging and Supervisory Control Module Sound and Vibration Measurement
  • Suite Touch Panel Module NI Motion Assistant PID and Fuzzy Logic Toolkit
  • Real-Time Execution Trace Toolkit Real-Time Module Report Generation Toolkit
  • Robotics Module Simulation Interface Toolkit NI SoftMotion Module Statechart
  • Module System Identification Toolkit Unit Test Framework VI Analyzer Toolkit
  • Vision Development Module

DVD 3

  • NI Device Drivers

There is a large amount of online information, training videos, examples, forums, and classes are available to help me while I am on my LabVIEW Robotics adventure. Loading the three disks onto my new Toshiba 64 bit laptop running Windows 7 and a 222 GB hard drive took a couple of hours and went reasonably well. Poking at the buttons of the program to see what I remembered from the one day training session I had a few years ago did not get me very far. I will try again later today to see if going through some of the examples will help me remember.

The first thing I want to do is light up a light. This involves setting up the workspace on the computer screen, dragging the parts from the parts bin to the workbench, and then wiring them up with the little spool of wire mouse cursor. Once it is set up I press the run button, flip the switch with the mouse, and the light should light. Later I can come back and add a flasher to it, etc. Keep adding things and soon I will have developed a working model of a humanoid lab assistant to clean the shop and run errands, when it is not helping me solve important world problems. I am looking forward to sharing this adventure with you here.

Paul F. GraysonGO ROBOTS!

Paul F. Grayson - Chief Engineer, American Industrial Magic, LLC, "Small engine and machinery repair"

TC Robotics 4-H Club, "Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math fun"

390 4-Mile Rd. S., Traverse City, MI 49696

pgrayson(at)aimagic.org

AIM: http://aimagic.org

TC Robotics 4-H Club: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TCRobotics4-HClub

Control Engineering Magazine:

http://www.controleng.com/blogs/aiming-for-automated-vehicles.html

Free 4-H club news letter:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TCRobotics4-HClub/join



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