CHICAGO – Controls engineers without programming skills may now have the ability to develop embedded products from end to end, thanks to a new graphical programming technique that enables them to “write” their own embedded C-code.
The technique, developed by engineers at National Instruments (www.ni.com/embedded), allows hardware developers with little or no software experience to create their own code by clicking on the block diagrams of a software interface. Targeted at portable instruments, industrial control devices, and other embedded products, such as engine controllers, the technique offers promise for project teams that have product development skills, but lack programming expertise. “There are a lot of industrial applications out there that need embedded code, but the people who create those applications aren’t necessarily programmers,” says John Pasquarette, software marketing director for National Instruments. “Often, they’re mechanical or electrical engineers who are trying to take advantage of the new capabilities that are available to them because of Moore’s Law. This allows them to do that.”Known as LabView Embedded Development Module, the new methodology prompts development engineers to follow logic diagrams and click on function blocks in order to create the code. A LabView software module then generates the proper C-code for the applications, and subsequent steps in the process then stitch that code to the application’s particular microprocessor.Specifically developed for applications incorporating 32-bit embedded microprocessors, the new development module incorporates approximately 400 analysis functions for signal processing, linear algebra, curve-fitting, statistics, and calculus.National Instruments engineers contend that such products are becoming necessary in light of the burgeoning amount of software code contained in today’s products, and because of the steady increase in the use of more complicated, 32-bit processors. The company says that embedded code in products has increased ten-fold in recent years, and adds that studies have shown that 61% of developers plan to use 32-bit processors in the next two years.The complexity is part of an embedded double-whammy for project leaders, who are finding it more difficult to hire programmers with embedded development expertise. “A lot of design teams are saying, ‘We’re going to have to expand on the software side, but our hardware team is not going to get any bigger,’” Pasquarette says.National Instruments, however, contends that lack of embedded software expertise needn’t stop project leaders from adding embedded features. “The in-house domain experts that you already have can do this,” Pasquarette says. “They can get a lot further down the software path without having to go out and find a specialist.”