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NI cooks up ideas for next LabView

Posted: 01 Oct 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:LabView 8.5? Multicore support? FPGA-based application?

Jeff Kodosky addresses NI Week, site of LabView 8.5 rollout.

Non-overwriting backup, simplified distributed computing through better management of shared resource connections, and better paths to incorporate user-generated customizations are but three of the improvements to LabView currently swirling around the brain of National Instruments Corp. (NI) co-founder and idea man Jeff Kodosky.

Kodosky's musings come on the heels of NI's release of LabView 8.5, the latest version of the company's graphical system design platform for test, control and embedded-system development.

Multicore support
LabView 8.5 simplifies multicore and FPGA-based application development using an intuitive parallel data-flow language. Running on parallel multicore architectures, ver 8.5 enables improved test throughput, more efficient processor-intensive analysis and more reliable real-time systems on dedicated processor cores. The revision also adds a new state-chart design module for modeling and implementing system behavior, as well as new I/O libraries and analysis functions for industrial monitoring and control.

Speaking toward the close of NI Week last August, Kodosky said that part of his annual routine is to check to see how much storage capability he can get for $400. "This year, I got a 1Tbyte drive," he said.

It's unlikely that such storage volume could ever be filled with program and data files. That realization got him rethinking the whole process of data and project backup.

"We have an undo feature in LabView, but it's hard to manage," Kodosky said. LabView can also track source code iterations. Given the availability of cheap storage, however, "we should never have to overwrite anything," he said.

Rather, it should be possible to store the entire history of a project. That would let a team go back up a path that appears to lead nowhere, backtracking to the point in the design where a certain decision was madesuch as to go with a specific hardware platform or chipand then choosing an alternate path instead.

"You can analyze the whole decision process," a capability that would aid in verification and test, Kodosky said. Apple Inc. is rumored to be working on such a model as well, he said.

Wired sharing
To better manage shared resources, Kodosky and NI's R&D team, led by senior VP Tim Dehne, are developing a new "wire" (LabView parlance for a connection between two blocks) that would represent or show the shared connection between the "producer" of a given data set and the "consumer" of that datai.e. a processor. That shared resource connection is currently implemented by calling up a virtual instrument (VI) within LabView. While the approach works, the VI is generally buried within the program and therefore difficult to access.

Kodosky's intention is to make that shared resource connection more visible and manageable through a wire that would be a 3D representation of the data connection and could be mapped to VI queues, to FIFO queues feeding data to FPGAs, and across platforms. In doing so, he hopes to simplify distributed computing.

One subset of the resource management task is timing, a critical function in distributed computing and shared resources. Kodosky refers to timing as a special case and one that is currently being worked on by Dehne. "We have 'Jeff's wire,' and we have 'Tim's wire'," he said.

While improvements to LabView come through both internal innovation and feedback from clients, Kodosky is pondering ways to simplify the addition and implementation of user-generated customizations and code. Ideas under consideration include the SourceForge model, where developers can upload and download software at will, and the Mindstorms model that NI developed with Lego.

With Mindstorms, users can modify, add to and customize the base platform with a vast array of hardware blocks and code available from the Lego site. "I'd like to take the Mindstorms model and bring it back into LabView," Kodosky said.

Other tweaks he'd like to make to accelerate the user feedback loop include a better Website connection and a better editing technology.

- Patrick Mannion
EE Times

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