A Glimpse of NIWeek 2018

NIWeek 2018 featured more than 100 demos. Here are a few of the best.
  • The importance of test and measurement was on display at National Instruments’ annual NIWeek 2018 show and conference, where approximately 3,300 engineers saw the latest in test equipment and software.

    This year’s show placed a heavy emphasis on solutions for transportation, the Internet of Things (IoT), and 5G communications. Show floor demos included robots for the IoT, light-based systems for vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and air bearings for Elon Musk’s Hyperloop.

    Here, we offer a glimpse at a few of the demos from the hundred-plus show-floor exhibitors. From air bearings to jump testers, what follows are some of the best.

  • NIWeek 2018 placed a heavy emphasis on the testing of autonomous cars, IoT technology, and 5G communications. It featured 230 technical sessions, 104 demos, 106 exhibitors, and more than 3,300 attendees. (Image source: Design News)

  • The theme for NIWeek 2018 was “Future Faster,” as demonstrated through the 1985 film Back to the Future. On the show floor, attendees were greeted by a vintage DeLorean DMC-12 sports car like the one used in the movie. National Instruments even issued T-shirts listing the movie’s five predictions that came true:

    1. Video chat

    2. Hover boards

    3. Personal drones

    4. Alternative fuel cars

    5. Cubs win the World Series

    (Image source: Design News)

  • AASA Inc. showed that it’s possible for vehicles to communicate with each other and with surrounding infrastructure via light, rather than radio frequency signals. Data from the vehicle’s CAN bus is sent through a modulator, which then flickers the vehicle’s LED lights at very high frequencies (not visible to the human eye). Resulting light signals can then be received and interpreted by cameras on surrounding vehicles. In that way, other cars “know” if the vehicle is braking.

    By using light instead of RF, signals are said to be more reliable. “If you’re in a congested city intersection and everybody is sending RF signals, you run the risk of getting jammed,” explained Dirar Hakeem of AASA. “With light, you eliminate that problem. There is no interference.” Hakeem also said that light is less susceptible to security breaches. The demo at the show used a CompactRIO embedded controller from National Instruments. AASA teamed with LHP Engineering Solutions and PTC Cloud on the vehicle security and communication technology for the vehicle. (Image source: Design News)  

  • A student engineering team from the University of Texas-Austin, called Texas Guadaloop, showed off the air bearing levitation system it designed for the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. The system, which won an innovation award at the competition, is different from conventional air bearings in that it can be used at high speeds, like those proposed for the Hyperloop. “Conventional air bearings are designed to hold high loads, and not to hold the same amount of fluid as speed increases,” noted Sahar Yumna Rashed, a member of the team. “Ours is different because it has a controlled pneumatic panel that regulates the air flow.”

    Rashed said the team’s air bearings have been demonstrated at 200 mph. At the show, Guadaloop showed off a 500-lb rig supported by four air bearings operating at 95 psi. Thanks to the air bearings, visitors to the booth could move the massive rig across the floor with the gentle touch of a hand. The team used National Instruments' myRIO embedded evaluation board and LabView visual programming platform to create the controller. (Image source: Design News)

  • National Instruments showed off an excavator using the company’s FieldDAQ module to gather data from strain gauges on its lifting arm. FieldDAQ is a data acquisition module that can be used in harsh environments, including -40°C to +85°C, 100G’s of shock, and vibration up to 10 Grms. The vehicle also used the FieldDAQ to measure temperature from thermocouples. (Image source: Design News)

  • To prove the ruggedness of its FieldDAQ modules, National Instruments placed three modules in a partially  filled aquarium equipped with windshield wipers. NI engineers said the modules are submersible in water for up to 30 minutes. Using Time Sensitive Networking, sensor measurements on the units were synchronized to within 1 µsec. FieldDAQ modules are targeted at construction equipment and machines that have to be intermittently hosed down. (Image source: Design News)

  • Xplore Technologies demonstrated its M60 six-inch ruggedized Android handheld computer, targeted at field service applications requiring toughness and portability. The M60 features an Android 8.0 operating system, a Qualcomm 8953 Octa-Core processor, and a battery with up to 22 hours of runtime. Aimed at industrial and outdoor settings, it includes a bright display that can be viewed in sunlit conditions. “There’s a movement out there to use rugged multi-function devices with the power of a smartphone,” noted John Graff, vice president of marketing for Xplore. “This is all about ruggedness—wet, extreme temperatures.” It incorporates sensors for ambient light, proximity, and gravity, as well as a compass and barometer. (Image source: Design News)

  • Denso Robotics showed off Cobotta, a small collaborative robot that it plans to release to the US market in 2019. Like all “cobots,” Cobotta operates at relatively slow speeds and is capable of quickly stopping its motion when it comes in contact with a human.

    Cobotta features six axes, an integrated gripper, optional camera, and a half-kilogram payload. It’s already being employed in a wide variety of applications in Japan, where it tests buttons and levers on instrument panels in auto manufacturing and is used in laboratories for parts inspection. The cobot has also been employed in medical applications to put surgical kits together and in banks, where it hands receipts to customers. (Image source: Design News)

  • At the Endigit booth, attendees got the opportunity to test their straight-up jumping power. Using a force plate designed by Endigit for Accuppower Solutions, users could quickly view the height and power of their straight-up jumps, as well as their flight times. Endigit wrote the force plate’s software in LabView. The force plate is now being used by the Texas Rangers major league baseball team and New England Patriots football team for testing of athletes. It is being employed in the so-called “combines” by the National Football League and National Hockey League. (Image source: Endigit)

  • The show featured a panel discussion about autonomous cars, focusing on the technical and social challenges of the technology. Speakers included Kamal Khouri of NXP Semiconductors, Bryant Walker Smith of the University of South Carolina Law School, and Richard Aspinall of electric automaker Faraday Future. (Image source: Design News) 

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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.  

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