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On November 25, 2009, NI CompactRIO and DIAdem software made cameo appearances on one of the most popular scientific television shows of all time, MythBusters. When the Sweet Apps crew found out about the product sighting, we had to check it out for ourselves.

In episode 133, Adam and Jamie addressed a myth that during a rooftop chase, jumping into a dumpster will ensure survival and allow successful escape. To test a best-case scenario, they dropped Buster (their faithful, trusty crash test dummy) into a dumpster filled with pieces of foam rubber. A CompactRIO lodged inside Buster’s chest cavity performed extreme, high-speed data logging as the dummy was dropped from a height of 20 feet, recording data from accelerometers throughout the fall. (I’ll note that CompactRIO has survived more extreme situations than that: check it out.)

Once they pulled Buster out of the dumpster, DIAdem went to work, crunching the logged data and providing visual representation of the recorded signals from the accelerometers. It was determined that Buster’s deceleration into the foam-filled dumpster peaked at 9.9 G’s, proving it safe for Adam to try it out firsthand. Despite the result, the MythBusters crew suggested it would be unlikely to find such an ideal dumpster in real life, thus declaring the myth PLAUSIBLE.

Back at SweetApps headquarters, we’re as proud as stagemoms to see NI products make it onto the big screen. We’ve gone so far as to provide time stamps of when you can see the CompactRIO and DIAdem screenshots throughout the episode:

28:05 –  CompactRIO, up-close and personal, inside Buster’s red jacket (looks like they used a 9014 controller with some 9234 high-accuracy DAQ modules)

28:54 –  DIAdem displays the logged data throughout Buster’s fall

30:09 –  NI Systems Engineer David Harding helps the MythBuster’s crew retrieve their data

CompactRIO and DIAdem get plenty more screen time throughout the episode (watch here). These are simply the frames we had made into 2×3” photos to pass out and keep in our wallets.

Previously, NI products have been sighted on Late Night with Conan O’Brien as well as Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior. Now we can add MythBusters to the list. I wonder what TV show we’ll see CompactRIO on next?

Here on the Sweet Apps Blog, we love to hear about the successes of our LabVIEW users. Even better, we love to hear about when our LabVIEW users have won awards, prizes, trophies and the like for their cutting-edge solutions.

One of our Academic Field Engineers, Andy Watchorn, forwarded us some breaking news regarding the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and their entry in the 2009 Solar Decathlon, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Twenty teams of college and university students competed to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The competition focus is on utilizing renewable energy as much as possible, and using it efficiently.

Our friends at University of Illinois ended up taking second place overall! Woo-hoo! John Simon gives us a virtual tour of their award-winning, Gable Home design:

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jon Ehlmann, who designed the Gable Home’s custom, energy-efficient, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, one of the key differentiators that made their entry so successful. He makes some very interesting points about why a custom, flexible HVAC makes the Gable Home’s automation system “future proof.”

What is your technical background and how were you involved in the Gable Home project?

I am an electrical engineering graduate student with an emphasis in power electronics.  I did all of the coding of the HVAC, and worked closely with 2 Mech-Es to figure out the electrical portion of the HVAC system and control strategy.

Why did you choose LabVIEW to control the HVAC?

I chose to use LabVIEW to develop the Gable Home’s Automation system for many reasons. First, I looked at a number of turn-key solutions on the market for home automation and noticed they fell short in at least 1 area, and were very expensive.  Some couldn’t monitor power. Some were hard to install.  This is why I chose to do a custom system.

I chose LabVIEW mainly because it is very easy to integrate different hardware.  In my case I had to integrate data acquisition (DAQ) for power monitoring, DAQ for HVAC control, and a power line modem to interface with Insteon smart switches and outlets.  I also felt the ability to customize the software to nearly any hardware is especially important with talk of adoption of a smart power grid and smart appliances.  By having a custom solution, our house is more “future-proof”

I had to write a custom serial driver for the Insteon PowerLinc Modem (PLM).  The NI VISA drivers were very helpful in interfacing with the PLM.  LabVIEW’s remote front panels made remote monitoring of the house very straightforward to implement.  I also chose LabVIEW because of its graphical programming environment.  This environment is fantastic for rapidly developing software.

How long did it take you to build?

Three very busy months.  I was given the project in the summer because our original controls group graduated and hadn’t really gotten anything done beside very conceptual work.  In fact, when I contacted the Insteon rep he said had been working with Cornell’s team for over a year and had doubts whether I would be able to control the lights by competition.   Not only did I control the lights, I also controlled the HVAC and monitored power.  LabVIEW’s graphical programming language really helped with the rapid development of this system.

What did you appreciate most about NI tools?

LabVIEW”s graphical programming language made programming easy, and the DAQmx drivers made measurement and control easy.

Thanks for sharing Jon, and congratulations on your award-winning design.

For more information, check out their team website: http://www.solardecathlon.uiuc.edu/

Now, how do I make a reservation to stay at this sweet crib?

A CAT Scan for Cats! LOLZ!!

November 10, 2009

At NIWeek in August, we were able to showcase a bunch of customers and their applications. Animage was one of those companies. Animage…like, animal? Yes. You are correct. Animals! We already know that I love animals, so I am really excited to share this with you.

Ok so here is the technical description of what Animage is doing:

The Challenge:
Quickly developing and deploying an embedded, multimodality diagnostic imaging system for small animal veterinary practices.

The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW and CompactRIO to rapidly create a functional prototype to demonstrate feasibility, and then quickly migrating 100 percent of the prototype software code to NI Single-Board RIO to create a final solution for deployment.

Here is my version: They made a CT Scan for Cats. For times like this:

Aren’t you glad I write this blog? Yeah, I wouldn’t have known what that description meant either. Good thing I work with Emilie. She knows how to deconstruct the technical jargon, and I know how to…well…talk about underwear and Oprah. Don’t worry, the company already knows they’re getting a little more bang for their buck with Em than with me.

So, let’s get serious. Back to the cats. If only I would tell you how many of my conversations start like that every day.

With LabVIEW and NI Single-Board RIO, Animage avoided having to develop most of the system from scratch, which shortened time to market and saved an estimated three man-years of development time, or about $300,000 in labor costs. And now, your animal (cat or anything else that ends up at the vet’s office) can get an X-Ray, CT scan, or motion-capture X-ray video when if it gets hurt. You can read more about it here.

When one of our dogs was a puppy, he hurt his paw and had to have a really pathetic little cast.


Don’t worry, we took good care of him and he has grown up to be a healthy dog.


But, maybe he could have benefited from Animage’s invention.

Christopher Farmer from CPE Systems, wrote me and Morgan (Morgan and me? Morgan and I? grammar geeks, help me out here!) to tell us about his Sweet App he’s been working on.

Apparently, our Aussie friends from down under have been collaborating with BT Imaging (BTi) to provide a photoluminescence imaging system in order to improve the way we manufacture solar cells, helping to detect faults and imperfections in solar cell materials. Admittedly, I had to google “photoluminescence” in order to really understand what is going on. Here’s what I could gather:

Photoluminescence, or PL since engineers love abbreviations and acronyms, is a process where you shoot a bunch of photons at something and it bounces back a bunch of photons, allowing you to create an image from what bounced back. Essentially, it’s like the flash on your disposable camera; you shine light on something and then you can see an image; only this is at the quantum level. And the flash of photons occurs within nanoseconds.

So BTi built a machine that can see the tiny tiny imperfections on solar cell materials by using PL imaging and contacted CPE when they wanted to scale their systems to be deployed to solar cell manufacturers around the world (GO GREEN!). Here’s where things get extra sweet:

The UI designed by Chris and his CPE colleagues is incredibly seamless and sexy; sexy in a way that the UI Interest Group would definitely appreciate. Chris described the front panel architecture for us:

“A major requirement was the ability to make child windows, so the user can open several image and data viewers that are all anchored to the main user interface. To achieve this, MultipleDocument Interface (MDI) capability was incorporated via windows API calls. [BTi] also required a black schema that was not dependant on the windows schema, as the look of the software needed to be preserved regardless of where it was installed. This was achieved by designing custom black frames that could be spawned containing any VI in a sub panel. Transparency was also utilized to implement sliding panels and other interface features.”

So here’s what I meant by sexy UI:


(There’s all kinds of crazy-cool-funkiness going on in that screenshot)

I should mention that CPE engineers used LabVIEW for their project saying it “provided the capability to easily interface to the range of hardware present in the system such as pneumatics, laser, SMU, illuminator, photodiode, Sinton bridge, and camera.” That’s a lot of data to display from sensors; no wonder the front panel is so sexy (yes, I’ve said sexy five times now in one blog post; that’s a Sweet Apps record! Does that make this blog post sexier than the one Morgan wrote about bras?).

Christopher also informed us that he and his fellow Aussies just won an award at the Pace Zenith Awards 2009 in Australia, for the Power and Energy Management category. Congratulations, mate! Pour the champagne and queue the music:

Oh, you thought I was going to talk to you about using an Apple computer? You should know from my posts about braselephants, and cheesecake that I don’t actually know a lot about computers or technology.




This is actually about macaroni.




Do you secretly have a stash of Kraft Mac & Cheese in your pantry for those days when you drop a glass jar of sticky jam on the tile kitchen floor while making your lunch, get to work and then notice the toothepaste spot smack-dab in the middle of your black shirt, spill coffee on your handouts for the presentation you are giving in 30 seconds, get hungry and remember that you left the PB&J which caused you so much heartache on the kitchen counter, and then finally call it a day and get home only to realize the entire house is, infact, out of toilet paper? Let’s just say, I used one of my boxes yesterday.




There is something about Kraft Mac & Cheese. I am all about saving $$$ at the grocery store, but I will pay the extra $.20 for Kraft. You boil the noodles, drain, and stir in a few ingredients from your fridge and it’s like all the parts of your bad day melt away with that large chunk of butter and some down time

Now, “down time” with yourself is great, but down time with personal technology is never good. Like when your computer blue-screens, or that little Windows hourglass won’t go away, or you (I) drop your (my) cell phone in the toilet and it needs a lot of “down time” to rest, and, er, dry out…never good. Well, down-time in production machinery is even worse. I imagine the opportunity cost of a production facility losing an hour to technical malfunctions is much, much greater than the opportunity cost of me losing 5 minutes to restart my computer.

Kraft Foods used LabVIEW and PXI to maximize production by decreasing down time and increasing packaging efficiencies for their Easy Mac packaging lines. LabVIEW was used for rapid development of the real-time detection and analysis platform and PXI embedded controllers offered standards-based hardware that supported deployment in ruggedized manufacturing environments.

We already went over how I am not too technical, and this project seems like it was pretty technical…so I am just going to let you read about the application on your own here.

Remember Oprah’s bold statement back in 2005? No, not the one about that book that she loved, defended, and then hated, this statement: “Women of America, you need to rise up and get a proper bra fitting.”

Well, NI products were ahead of Oprah.

So I work in the Marketing Communications group here at NI, with a bunch of lovely ladies. On the case studies team, it’s our job to figure out how to best communicate the applications that engineering firms are creating with NI products. I don’t know what it is, but it seems like most of the applications that come are way are so, well, man-centric. It’s testing race cars and figuring out how to design communication systems for the military, and engineering bridges to ensure that they’re stable in all of the right places.

What I am not seeing is a way to test exactly how long I can have my straightener on high, clamped tightly on my bangs before the molecular structure of the hair actually changes, leaving me with tiny, singed ends. Or, how to know exactly how many times I am going to be able to button the super-cute but cheaply-made vest I just bought before the button comes off. See? I can think in terms of strain testing.

Well, ladies. Strap on your seatbelts. LabVIEW has something for you. A girl application. An Oprah application. Forget about making sure that bridges are stable in all of the right places, LabVIEW is going to make sure that you’re stable in all of the right places.

That’s right. Pankhurst Design and Development Ltd (PDD) of Hammersmith, London to designed and built a bra-sizing rig in LabVIEW for FigLeaves, a UK-based lingerie shop. PDD in-turn selected LiveWires to handle the PC-based software, data acquisition and motor control.

PDD developed a torso with 2 latex breasts that can be inflated and deflated by pumping water in and out of them.  In this way, a good fit can be achieved for the “cup size” of each bra.  The torso also has a motorized back plate that effectively allows the circumference to be altered, thus allowing the “band size” of each bra to be determined.  A National Instruments PCI-7344 motor control card controls the 3 motors in the system – one for the back plate adjustment and two for the peristaltic pumps associated with each breast.

Check out that image, it’s my favorite part, its inflatable breasts and all: