Forging Abundance, Engineering the Big Challenges

Forging Abundance, Engineering the Big Challenges

Do you want to devote your life and engineering talents building social websites designed to trick people into giving you their personal data so that your company can sell it and the founder and his friends become billionaires? Or, would you rather do something significant, forging abundance, engineering the big challenge to help people survive and thrive?

I miss spending a week of my Augusts in Austin, Texas. No, not for the 105 deg F outside and 65 deg F inside the convention center. It was for National Instruments’ NI Week user conference. Some of the brightest engineers I knew worked there or were customers and the pursuit of solving big engineering challenges was palpable.

NI now focuses on instrumentation for solving those big challenges. Being out of my normal area of coverage, they don’t contact me anymore. But it’s still a cool company. Infected a little by “big company disease”, but still cool.

I thought about that while reading the latest Abundance Insider Newsletter from Peter Diamandis. This guy is crazy—crazy smart, that is. If you aren’t receiving the newsletter and following him, click here and start getting it. You may not totally agree, but it’ll blow your mind for sure.

Diamandis originated the X Prize to encourage accomplishing big, hairy, audacious ideas.

Here are some examples from the latest newsletter and a bonus thrown in from a podcast.

Renewable Energy

What: Siemens Gamesa is now leveraging the Earth’s surface for a future of energy abundance. The large-scale renewable energy technology manufacturer has just begun operations of what it claims is the world’s first electrothermal energy storage system. Already, Siemens Gamesa has turned a section of volcanic rock into a massive organic battery, capable of storing up to 130 megawatt-hours of energy for a week. The company additionally reports that its electrothermal energy storage system is significantly less expensive than conventional storage solutions. If we can begin to harness organic material for energy storage, how would this influence the modern-day power grid and storage solutions?

Why it’s important: Renewable energy has long been promoted as an alternative solution to fossil fuels and other contemporary sources of energy. However, their oft-cited limitation is that of energy storage. If Siemens Gamesa demonstrates the successful scale-up of its sustainable solution to the storage problem, pervasive implementation of renewable energy sources would become a much more feasible option, and long-term implications would abound. If communities could soon store energy beneath their homes for extended periods of time, how might this influence real estate values and opportunities for expansion? What new microgrid networks and local economies would arise?

City of the Future?

What it is: Long in the works, Sidewalk Labs’ plan to build out a high-tech utopia on Toronto’s waterfront is now out. While still subject to a thorough public vetting process — principally by government-appointed, non-profit partner Waterfront Toronto — the plan outlines an urban model for integrated smart cities of the future. Dubbed “the most innovative district in the world” by Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, the pitch’s most pioneering components include autonomous vehicle networks, ubiquitous public Wi-Fi, an 89 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, and countless sensors for collection of “urban data” to optimize civil engineering decisions.

Why it’s important: Already, Sidewalk Labs’ comprehensive plan has been projected to help create 44,000 jobs and generate $4.3 billion in annual tax revenue. Sidewalk Labs has additionally stated it will spend $1.3 billion on the project with the aim of spurring $38 billion in private sector investment by 2040. Beyond the targeted district, however, a materialized smart city plan could become an ideal testing ground for next-generation breakthrough technologies and automated ecosystems that provide seamlessly delivered public services and predictive routing.

Human-like Prosthetics

What it is: A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has made extraordinary headway in the field of high-tech prosthetics, creating a bionic arm that functions smoothly without a brain implant. Previous robotic prosthetics required a patient to undergo high-risk, invasive surgery for a brain implant to achieve maximum robotic mobility. This arm, however, bridges the gap between seamless function and non-surgical bionics. In one instance, it was shown capable of following a computer screen cursor in real time without exhibiting the jerky motions and intermittent delays typical of other non-surgical mind-controlled prosthetics.

Why it’s important: This innovation represents a fundamental leap in the age-old mission to enhance the quality of life and autonomy of individuals who have lost a limb. By improving prosthetic quality at significantly diminished risk, non-invasive bionics no longer require patients to risk their health to enjoy long-term use of a high-functioning, mind-controlled limb. As brain-computer interface (BCI) technology continues to surge forward, we are quickly charting the path to a future wherein responsive prosthetics will serve countless uses, from limb replacement to assistive aids in any number of industries and professions.

Repurpose your Chem E (or other) Degree For Greater Good

In an interview on TechNation with Moira Gunn, Neil Kumar, CEO of Bridge Bio and a Chem E , talked of reflecting when he was in school that the traditional industries that employed Chem Es were on the decline—Oil & Gas and Plastics. So he looked around and focused on biopharma. He noted that many of the startups in that market were engineers with a Chem E background. His company has developed a new model for addressing genetically-driven diseases affecting a small number of patients.

Conclusion

Is it time to start thinking bigger about the contribution you can make to society (and yourself and family)? Instrumentation, control, automation, data—these are all technologies and skills that can lead to a better life than trapping people on their smart phones in an app that sucks you dry.

NI Focusing on Test and Measurement Updates LabView

NI Focusing on Test and Measurement Updates LabView

NI Week was last week, and for only the second time in 20 years, I didn’t go. NI, formerly National Instruments, has been focusing more on test and measurement lately. Not so much automation. My interest is mostly on its IoT efforts especially TSN. I figure I can get an interview with Todd Walter or whomever without the expense of a conference.

NI’s core competency lies as the provider of a software-defined platform that helps accelerate the development and performance of automated test and automated measurement systems. At NI Week it announced the release of LabVIEW 2018.

Applications that impact our daily lives are increasing in complexity due to the rapid innovation brought on by industry trends such as 5G, the Industrial Internet of Things, and autonomous vehicles. Consequently, the challenge of testing these devices to ensure reliability, quality and safety introduce new demands and test configurations, with decreased time and budget. Engineers need better tools to organize, develop and integrate systems so they can accomplish their goals within the acceptable boundaries.

Engineers can use LabVIEW 2018 to address a multitude of these challenges. They can integrate more third-party IP from tools like Python to make the most of the strengths of each package or existing IP from their stakeholders. Test engineers can use new functionality in LabVIEW 2018 to strengthen code reliability by automating the building and execution of software through integration with open interface tools like Jenkins for continuous delivery. Capabilities like this empower test engineers to focus on system integration and development where they can offer unique differentiation, rather than get bogged down in the semantics of how to use software tools or move IP from one to another. For test engineers using FPGAs for high-performance processing, new deep learning functions and improved floating-point operations can reduce time to market.

“NI’s continued commitment to its software-centric platform accelerates my productivity so I can focus on the challenges that yield the highest ROIs,” says Chris Cilino, LabVIEW framework architect at Cirrus Logic. “LabVIEW continues to minimize the effort of adding tests and code modifications to our validation framework, delivering a consistent process to maintain our software and incorporate the reuse of valuable IP without rewrites.”

To meet demands like testing higher complexity DUTs and shorter timeframes, engineers need tools tailored to their needs that they can efficiently use through their workflow, helping them to meet their exact application requirements. LabVIEW 2018 is the latest addition to NI’s software-centric platform that features products tailored to needs within distinct stages of their workflow – products that have been adopted in whole or in part by more than 300,000 active users.

With InstrumentStudio software providing an interactive multi-instrument experience, TestStand test management software handling overall execution and reporting and SystemLink software managing assets and software deployments, this workflow improves the productivity of test and validation labs across many industries. Each piece of the workflow is also interoperable with third-party software to maximize code and IP reuse and draws on the LabVIEW Tools Network ecosystem of add-ons and tools for more application-specific requirements.

Engineers can access both LabVIEW 2018 and LabVIEW NXG with a single purchase of LabVIEW.

Forging Abundance, Engineering the Big Challenges

Time Sensitive Networking or TSN Now Embedded In a Product

Time Sensitive Networking, or TSN, extends and amplifies standard Ethernet as defined by the IEEE. The complete suite of specifications lacks a couple of areas, yet, but it is complete enough to begin using. NI (National Instruments) has been an early proponent of the technology participating in a testbed assembled by the Industrial Internet Consortium.

I’m a TSN believer. When the complete set of specs if finished and we see commercial-off-the-shelf chipsets, this high speed, deterministic network will be a game changer for the Internet of Things and indeed industrial control and automation. The amount of murmuring I’m hearing from suppliers confirms in my mind the potential.

NI has announced new CompactRIO Controllers that include NI-DAQmx and Time Sensitive Networking (TSN). These controllers offer deterministic communication and synchronized measurements across standard Ethernet networks to increase performance and help improve productivity in addition to flexibility. NI was the first to market with industrial embedded hardware supporting TSN, the next evolution of the IEEE 802.11 Ethernet standard, and provides these controllers as part of its continued investment in TSN. Engineers can use TSN to synchronize distributed systems across networks, which eliminates the need for costly synchronization cables.

As industries such as automotive, oil and gas, research and aerospace continue to implement the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), acquiring accurate, reliable and synchronized data across distributed nodes has become more challenging. As a result, companies must keep pace to ensure their systems are ready to meet these evolving requirements.

In the research space, A.M.S. Software GmbH is already taking advantage of the flexibility of CompactRIO with NI-DAQmx. “We are excited about the new CompactRIO Controller because of the flexibility it offers us,” said Klaudius Pinkawa, CEO of A.M.S. Software GmbH. “We needed to set up several experiments in a lab and then perform them on an aircraft in zero gravity. CompactRIO with NI-DAQmx allowed us to perform any experiment using the same hardware in both environments, which saved development time and reduced risks to the experiments.

The new CompactRIO Controllers feature:

  • Submicrosecond synchronization with TSN over standard Ethernet for tightly synchronized, distributed measurements and control
  • Shorter time to measurement than previous CompactRIO Controllers because of intuitive NI-DAQmx driver software
  • Open and secure processing at the edge of the IIoT with the NI Linux Real-Time OS
  • High-performance data analysis and control with an industrial-grade processor and onboard FPGA, programmable with LabVIEW FPGA
  • Reliable operation in harsh environments with -40 °C to 70 °C operating temperature range, shock resistance up to 50 g and vibration resistance up to 5 g

With the addition of NI-DAQmx to the CompactRIO Controller family, engineers can access I/O directly from ready-to-use functions, which have made working with this driver the preferred data acquisition method for over 15 years. This intuitive driver coupled with the openness of the NI Linux Real-Time OS means users can continue to leverage the vast ecosystem of IP available for Linux, like Security Enhanced Linux (SE-Linux).

NI Focusing on Test and Measurement Updates LabView

Leadership Transition At National Instruments

Dr T

James Truchard, “Dr. T”, co-founder and CEO of National Instruments has announced his retirement effective January 1, 2017. This is no surprise. The company has transitioned from a small, hungry, engineering-driven company to a large corporation during the past 5–7 years. It appeared during NI Week 2015 that a transition was imminent. Also no surprise is his replacement, and the person I perceive as the architect of the new NI, Alex Davern, who has been COO/CFO.

Alex Davern NIDr. Truchard will remain as Chairman of the Board. The Board of Directors plans to appoint Mr. Davern to the Board by the end of January 2017. This transition is being undertaken as part of the Board’s succession planning process.

“It has always been my goal for NI to be a company built to last,” said Truchard. “Over the last decade, in the face of a weak industrial economy I have focused my efforts on helping to ensure that we were making the long-term strategic investments necessary to set NI up for future growth. I believe these major platform investments, in key areas like PXI modular instrumentation, RF measurements, CompactRIO, and our entire software platform, will continue providing NI with disruptive platform capabilities needed to expand our long-term market opportunity. Given our significant progress, much of which was showcased at NIWeek earlier this month, I believe NI is well-positioned for the coming decade.”

Truchard continues, “It is the right time for me to retire as CEO. I have worked with Alex Davern for more than 20 years. He is an exceptional leader and business strategist, with a demonstrated track record of success. I have complete confidence in Alex and the rest of the senior leadership team at NI to continue delivering on our consistent track record of innovation, growth and profitability.”

“As a company built to last, Dr. Truchard has built an extremely capable senior leadership team over the years, and I am honored and excited to lead NI into its next phase of growth and profitability,” said Davern. “Our differentiated platform and ecosystem coupled with our strong business model, give us the opportunity to be the preeminent company in test, measurement and control.” Davern has served as Chief Operating Officer of NI since 2010, and Chief Financial Officer since 1997. Davern, and the rest of the senior management team, including Jeff Kodosky, co-founder, Fellow, and Board member of NI; Eric Starkloff, Executive VP of Global Sales and Marketing; Scott Rust, Senior VP of R&D; and Duncan Hudson, Chief Platform Officer, have over 100 years of experience at NI, working closely with Dr. Truchard.

“Countless entrepreneurs have great ideas and start companies, but very few have accomplished what Jim has – from moonlighting out of our garage and kitchen in 1976, to self-funding the business, to a successful IPO in 1995, to the $1B+ revenue company we are today with over 7,000 employees around the globe,” said Jeff Kodosky, NI co-founder, Fellow and Board member. “But more than just financial success for the company, what truly stands out is the impact that Jim and NI have had on engineering and science over these last four decades. The innovation he has enabled across so many industries inspires me to this day. I look forward to his ongoing contributions as Chairman.”

In light of Mr. Davern’s promotion, the company will start the process of considering candidates to serve as Chief Financial Officer and expects to complete the process by the end of 2016.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. T a little every year at NI Week. He impressed me with his immense curiosity and humbleness. He’s a fantastic leader. I feel a sense of loss at the way NI used to be, but it is positioned to survive long term as an engineering leader. I missed this year’s NI Week. Judging from the announcements, the company’s direction and mine have diverged. But it is still a company to watch.

And all the best to Dr. T in his retirement.

No Austin Technology Trip This Year

No Austin Technology Trip This Year

I’m sitting in Ohio’s 90-degree heat instead of the 100-degrees of Austin, Texas this week. After attending 18 straight NI Week technology events, I’ve taken a break. I have two things on this post while I think through my next post on Internet of Things and communication technologies.

National Instruments has changed tremendously over the past five years or so. All the marketing and media relations people I’ve known are gone. For the first time last year, I walked into the press room and no one knew me. There were no interviews. No suggestions on finding great information. Even the keynotes no longer brought awe and spontaneous applause at the technology advances. The applause was more perfunctory.

NI is no longer family with a tremendous enthusiasm for technology advancements. It’s a big company.

I’m saving the $1,200 or so it would have cost me to go to Austin in August. I’ll be there in October for Dell World. I’ll visit the other Austin technology companies then. (And run along Town Lake–er, Lady Bird Lake, eat good barbecue, take in some music.)

OPC and the REST of it

I’ve been seeing news and receiving press releases from companies promoting MQTT and REST–perhaps instead of OPC UA. (More in my next post.)

So, I have been researching industrial communications–protocols, platforms, architectures, standards. OPC has been a workhorse for moving structured data from control to HMI and beyond. It is developing a publish/subscribe technology to complement its client/server technology to enhance cloud communication.

I’m seeing interest from suppliers from alternatives, or, if not alternatives, other technologies that could complement or supplant much of the work of OPC UA. MQTT, AMQP, REST, DDS. Companies are exploring them.

I wonder why? I’m interviewing many people on the subject. There is much to read.

What do you think? Send email or comment. Is there something about OPC UA that makes you consider other technologies? Why would you pick MQPP? REST is an API specification most used to get large amounts of information into Web pages. Could you use that in place of an MES? Or, to assist your MES?

There are lots of questions. I’m looking for answers. Thoughts?

NI Announces LabView2016

I am receiving news from NI Week. Here is the first announcement.

NI announced LabVIEW 2016 system design software, empowering engineers to simplify development and effectively integrate software from the ecosystem into their systems. The latest version of LabVIEW introduces new channel wires to simplify complex communication between parallel sections of code. Available on both desktop and real-time versions of LabVIEW, the channel wire method helps improve code readability and reduces development time.

“The new channel wires in LabVIEW 2016 enable us to develop applications even faster by making architectures that are more transferable across domains,” said Christopher Relf, chief engineer at VI Engineering. “With channel wires, we can set up sophisticated software architectural patterns that natively have multiple sources, without having to create and maintain considerable amounts of custom software in the background.”

Much of the success that LabVIEW users have had relies on the openness of both the product itself and the ecosystem that supports it. LabVIEW 2016 continues this trend with enhanced interoperability with Python and third-party devices. This openness, combined with several new enhancements, helps users continue to improve productivity by streamlining code development and deployment. With the latest version of LabVIEW, users can:

  • Simplify development with new channel wires that reduce complex asynchronous communication to a single wire
  • Take advantage of more RAM and memory with new 64-bit add-on support for the LabVIEW Control Design and Simulation Module, LabVIEW MathScript Real-Time Module, LabVIEW Unit Test Framework Toolkit, LabVIEW Desktop Execution Trace Toolkit and LabVIEW VI Analyzer Toolkit
  • Streamline the automation of benchtop measurements with the Instrument Driver Network, which supports 500 new devices in addition to the existing 10,000 supported instruments
  • Integrate Python IP using the new Python Integration Toolkit for LabVIEW, which is a simple API from Enthought, Inc. (available in the LabVIEW Tools Network) that can integrate Python scripts into LabVIEW applications