National Instruments Introduces LabVIEW Robotics 2009

National Instruments announced LabVIEW Robotics 2009, a new version of its graphical system design software that provides a standard development platform for designing robotic and autonomous control systems. NI LabVIEW Robotics 2009 delivers an extensive robotics library with connectivity to standard robotic sensors and actuators, foundational algorithms for intelligent operations and perception and motion functions for robots and autonomous vehicles. With this new software, engineers and scientists now can implement ideas faster with seamless deployment to real-time embedded and field-programmable gate array (FPGA) hardware, and can maximize the software flexibility through integration with a variety of processing platforms, third-party software tools and prebuilt robot platforms.

"When building a new robot, one must typically start from scratch. With no software standard, there is very little opportunity for code reuse or sharing," said Dr. Dave Barrett, professor at Olin College and former vice president of engineering at iRobot Corporation. "We need an industrial-grade, hardened, richly supported software development system to build autonomous, mobile robots that can sense, think, and act in the world around them. I have spent 15 years trying to come up with the best robotics programming language, and LabVIEW has accomplished that."

Because of its open graphical system design platform, LabVIEW Robotics 2009 can import code from other languages including C/C++, .m files and VHDL, and communicate with a wide variety of sensors using built-in drivers for everything from LIDAR, IR, sonar and GPS devices to dramatically reduce development time allowing engineers and scientists to focus on adding their own algorithms and intelligence. In addition, the software includes new robotics IP capable of easy implementation to real-time and embedded hardware for obstacle avoidance, inverse kinematics and search algorithms to help an autonomous system or robot plan an optimal path.

"The LabVIEW graphical and textual language has evolved dramatically in the past 23 years," said John Pasquarette, vice president of product marketing for software at National Instruments. "Initially developed as a data acquisition and instrument control tool for automated test, LabVIEW has grown into a powerful embedded mechatronics design platform. Engineers and scientists now can design sophisticated control systems and quickly deploy their applications to real-time embedded hardware from a single environment."

LabVIEW Robotics 2009 is ideal for designing and prototyping applications including the following:

  • Autonomous and semiautonomous ground vehicles
  • Robot rescue platforms
  • Personal and service robots
  • Medical robotic devices
  • Academic and research robots
  • Agricultural and mining systems

When combined with NI CompactRIO or NI Single-Board RIO devices, LabVIEW Robotics 2009 provides a complete development platform for designing robotic control systems. The reconfigurable I/O (RIO) architecture incorporates a real-time processor, an FPGA and a wide range of I/O, including analog, digital, motion and communication. By combining off-the-shelf sensors with a CompactRIO or NI Single-Board RIO embedded system, engineers and scientists can rapidly design and prototype complex robotic applications.
LabVIEW Robotics 2009 is priced from $1,999 (US).
Explore a collection of robotics tutorials, webcasts, videos and case studies about using NI hardware and software by downloading the " Robotics 101 Resource Kit" at www.ni.com. For additional information on LabVIEW Robotics 2009: www.ni.com/robotics.

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

National Instruments (NI) is an interesting company that develops software such as NI LabVIEW, and is fortunate to sell its products to a diverse customer base of more than 30,000 different companies worldwide, with no one customer representing more than 3 percent of revenue and no one industry representing more than 15 percent of revenue. Diversity is a good thing . . .

I have followed NI for a number of years and really got interested in the company a couple of years ago with LabVIEW 8.5 being used alongside SolidWorks. LabVIEW Robotics is a natural progression in the evolution of the product line for designing and prototyping robotic systems that are becoming increasingly pervasive in the world around us, not just manufacturing environments anymore.

This announcement by National Instruments again reinforces the increasing need for simultaneous simulation of mechanical and electrical systems, universally known as mechatronics. As we have been saying for several years, there was a time when mechanical systems and products were strictly mechanical, however, the majority of today’s products continue to become more capable, and more complex, involving the integration of mechanical and electrical subsystems.

A more comprehensive way to view mechatronics is the systematic integration of mechanical, electrical, electronics, and embedded firmware (software) components. When all of the various components are combined the result is an electromechanical system. Maybe a better term is “ecosystems.” In this context, mechatronics is characterized by software and electronics controlling electromechanical systems. This description is widely seen in automotive engines and other automotive systems, as well as production machinery and medical equipment.

Mechatronics can also be a method used for achieving an optimal design solution for an electromechanical product. Key mechatronics ideas are developed during the interdisciplinary simulation process that provide the conditions for fostering synergy for discovering solutions to complex design problems. The synergy arises from the integration of mechanical, electrical, and computer systems with information systems for the design and manufacture of mechatronics products. In other words, many different distinct subsystems coming together to perform a complex function. Mechatronic products exhibit performance characteristics that were previously difficult or impossible to achieve without a synergistic approach by applying information systems to mechanical, electrical, and computer systems.

A continuing trend is that as mechatronics systems get more complex and as functionality demands increase, in many instances software and firmware are replacing or at least supplementing hardware. A benefit of this transition from hardware to the burgeoning emphasis on software is called “postponement,” that is, the ability to include or change major functionality features during the final stages of production via embedded software.

As mechatronic systems get more complex, the challenges associated with successfully designing and executing them also become more demanding due to the interoperability requirements between electronic CAD (ECAD) and mechanical CAD (MCAD) software.

Mechatronics systems present major design and production challenges because they bring together many different types of physical and digital parts, processes, and personnel to create a successful end product. Designing and producing a mechatronics system requires a well-orchestrated effort by a wide variety of job roles and functions – everything from industrial design to PCB layout to control logic design to production planning.

There are several positive effects of integrating digital simulation and modeling in designing mechatronics, and for good reason – it saves time and money, reduces risk, and results in higher quality, more innovative products. Several of the 3D MCAD packages and the mechatronics synergy is the result of working with companies such as National Instruments. This synergy between the companies has resulted in the greatest value being realized in moving from mechanical to electromechanical machine design. Customers have benefited by integrating simulation and controls with the help of National Instruments (with products such as LabVIEW Robotics) and 3D modeling and mechanical analysis/simulation.

In the past, simulating the performance of a machine containing both mechanical and electrical components was a difficult and time-consuming process that required skilled specialists. Today, mechatronics design tools from National Instruments and several of the MCAD vendors are bringing the electrical and mechanical worlds together to make simulation and subsequent design easier. With 3D CAD, mechanical engineers can design machine parts and assemblies using a familiar interface with 3D visualization, while also simulating mechanism motion through mechanism dynamics.

While motion analysis packages are well-suited for open-loop motion simulations, a typical electromechanical system involves closed-loop control. For a true closed-loop simulation, engineers need to simulate not only the dynamics of a mechanism but also the controls that act on that mechanism. The LabVIEW interface for mechanical analysis packages provides an interface between the two environments so engineers can simulate closed-loop control for complex electromechanical systems. Closed-loop simulation between mechanical and control development environments can help drive better design decisions for both the mechanical and control aspects of a design.

Closed-loop simulation with a control design environment, such as LabVIEW and LabVIEW Robotics, and a mechanical design environment, can help accelerate the design process for complex mechatronics systems, resulting in superior products in less time .

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