As a long time C programmer who is currently learing LabView, I would add that graphical programming is still programming, and requires a similar set of skills. Yes, it does make some basic progams easier to create, but for anything more sophisticated than that you still need to learn the same concepts a text based language requires (loops, variables, structures, functions, etc), as well as all of the intricasies of the graphical environment.
That being said, I have a junior engineer working for me who has not been able to learn text based programmming, but is a whiz at LabView. It is appearanlty a different enough way of looking at things that he can wrap his brain around it, and do very good work. If this type of environment enables someone who can't or won't learn text based programming to build something new or creative, then it is a welcome addition to our colective tool sets.
Jon won't give himself the plug, so I will. He did a great series of five one-hour online courses two weeks ago, on Microcontroller Basics. He discusses dev kits a bit, but mainly it's just a great intro and refresher for engineers who'd like to get updated. The archives are posted here: http://www.designnews.com/lecture-calendar.asp We also have a series this week (Jan. 30), an Advanced MCU track, each day at 2pm eastern.
Jenn: When this concept started out, it was targeted at students, all the way down to the high school level. Its no being targeted at professionals. As Naperlou points out, the concept isn't new. But it is growing. National Instruments has been doing it for a few years, aiming its LabView graphical environment at so-called "domain experts," whose programming background may not be much different than that of a student. Many mechanical engineers are looking for a simple method, too.
In early 2011 I posted a long review of the FlowCode tools from Matrix Multimedia. You'll find it here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=230420. I still use the FlowCode software (now at version 5) as a way to quickly prototype a software design for PIC MCUs. Yes, Matlab, Simulink, LabVIEW, Maple and other products have similar capabilities, but they aim at high-level engineering projects such as closed-loop engine control, PID loops, and so on. Although Matrix Multimedia initially aimed its products at schools and universities, the wide range of eBlocks modules makes the hardware and software appeal to engineers, too. The lineup of eBlock devices include a ZigBee router, wireless LAN, audio codec, and CAB bus boards. --Jon Titus
I think Naperlou makes a good point that graphic programming capabilities are definitely available from a growing number of vendors and across an expanding number of disciplines, from engineering to software development. Mathworks' Simulink and MATLAB tools follow a similar graphical programming model. While these tools might make the programming legwork more accessible and easier for engineers, they don't obviate the need for engineers to have a solid cross-discipline background in core capabilities like electronics, embedded software, and mechanical development.
Chuck: Is this dev kit for the professional engineer, or more for our readers who contribute Gadget Freak projects - many of whom are backyard tinkerers or engineering students? Or, is it trying to strike a balance between the two?
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad idea. On the other hand, it is not particularly new, either. Microsoft just came out with something called LightSwitch 2011. It is the same type of environment for user interface and business systems. As the article mentions, there is LabVIEW for embedded design. While all these tools are good for building quick prototypes and perhaps some types of production systems, they are inadequate for designing high performance systems. the problem comes at the high end and the low end. Software Engineers bring a lot of knowledge and skill in designing and architecting systems. They also bring knowledge of complex algorithms at the lower level to build very efficient components.
I do agree that engineers need to work differently, especially considering the ubiquity of microprocessors in all types of systems. I notice that engineering schools are teaching computer science to all types of engineers in many cases. This trend needs to continue. That won't obviate the need for the software engineer, though.
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