Earlier this month, National Instruments (NI) held its annual NI Week conference, a gathering of the company’s customers, prospects, etc. Can you think of a better place to be than Austin in August?
One of the best parts of this event, for me at least, is the opportunity to sit down with NI co-founder, president, and CEO James Truchard, more commonly known as Dr. T. We talked about a variety of subjects, from the general business outlook to educating our up-and-coming engineering students, and what it’s like to work at NI.
NI is clearly committed to having an impact at the university level. It sponsors contests for college students, makes its tools available at significantly reduced prices, and even gets involved with professors to the point of helping with curricula. Putting a stake in the ground such as this certainly comes at a price. You must be willing to invest in the universities for a payback down the road. Because NI has been at it for some time, it's definitely seeing results. Graduates are quite familiar with LabVIEW and other offerings from NI when they start their engineering careers.
“We know that software is a lot about psychology. If we can get these students comfortable with LabVIEW, there’s a high probability they’ll remain loyal to the products,” Truchard told me.
Another area of investment for NI is wireless technology. “Wireless is a big part of the total revenue of a system, and it’s a long-term investment for NI," said Truchard. "The wireless decision is now made much earlier in the design process, sometimes even first. And WiFi is very prevalent in the industrial space."
Along those same lines, robotics are gaining the smarts they need to make a bigger impact on our lives. For example, I saw a video at NI Week showing a “smart gangplank,” designed using LabVIEW. This is a gangplank that’s attached to a boat and used for getting people from the boat onto a wind turbine that’s miles out in the ocean. The boat pulls up to the turbine, but the sometimes rough seas make it very difficult, and often dangerous, to reach the turbine platform. The smart gangplank moves in the same directions as the ocean, thereby making it easier to climb. It sounds simple, but it requires a huge amount of processing power.
A final tidbit from Dr. T made an impact on me. He stressed how important it is for NI to be a fun place for people to work. I certainly agree with that philosophy.