Analysis: Control related enhancements top NI LabView 8.5 introduction
|The statechart module is an important capability new with LabView’s version 8.5. Source: National Instruments|
Austin, TX —Acceleration of National Instruments’ move into the control-system development market was the most significant news at the company’s NIWeek 2007 user conference last week. We have been watching this trend materialize over the past decade, but the major enhancements announced with the introduction of the latest version of the company’s flagship software reposition the development environment from a mainly data-acquisition tool to a robust control-system development tool.
System integrator and former NI VP of
LabView was originally designed as a framework to help engineers and scientists implement complex test programs. To that end, the software has always included features to control real-world equipment. A program intended to collect results of a chemical experiment, for example, would also need capability to control valves that automatically added reagents at the correct times and in the correct sequences, turn stirrers on and off, control temperatures of heaters, and so forth.
While control and simulation capabilities have always been part of LabView (The first LabView program this reporter wrote was a dynamic drive/motor/encoder simulation), they have always been there to support the software’s primary function of data acquisition. What has changed is that significant new capabilities, notably a new statechart module, are primarily aimed at the needs of control engineers.
The statechart module offers a new programming model for designing applications at a higher, more abstract level than previously possible. It helps control engineers develop statechart diagrams; define high-level behaviors for virtual instruments; and execute the statecharts on desktop PCs, embedded real-time controllers and FPGAs.
Statecharts are especially useful for event-response applications, such as intricate user interfaces and advanced state machines used to implement dynamic system controllers, machine control logic and digital communication protocols. Statechart diagrams also complement the existing LabView models of computation, which include graphical data flow, interactive configuration, text-based math and dynamic system simulation diagrams to give you a full array of options for designing your applications.
Another feature of interest to embedded-system developers in particular is LabView 8.5’s extension of the software’s multicore processor support. As Dr. James Truchard, CEO, pointed out, LabView’s dataflow programming paradigm has always provided inherent parallelism that naturally translates to multicore and multiprocessor computing engines.
To achieve real-time symmetric multiprocessing (SMP), NI developed a real-time load-balancing scheduler to automatically assign tasks to different processor cores, providing performance improvements without sacrificing determinism or requiring user code changes. LabView 8.5 extends this support by allowing users to manually assign portions of code to specific processor cores, thereby fine-tuning real-time systems or isolating time-critical tasks on a dedicated core.
Finally, Thompson’s comment hinged on the fact that the ability to use LabView to develop real-time programs, then implement them in FPGA hardware has been available for about 10 years. The result is special-purpose custom computing hardware that runs in real time because it has no operating system, or even software. With this technology, virtually any control algorithm can be implemented as a special-purpose hardware-only computer.
Is it the ultimate RTOS? Perhaps not, but it is a significant tool to help control engineers create solutions for advanced applications.
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