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?

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:


This latest installment of Sweet Apps comes from Clemson University. We first got wind of this from a story on PhysOrg.com (and was subsequently covered by Engadget).

It’s what would happen if Shaquille O’Neil and Sir Isaac Newton friended each other on Facebook:

A Clemson-student chapter of the Structural Engineers Association, led by professor Scott Schiff, collaborated with the Clemson Athletic Department to create measurement and analysis system that rates the intensity of slam dunks made by the Clemson basketball team. The system essentially takes measurements from accelerometers placed on the basketball hoop and turns that data into a slam dunk meter that is then displayed on the Clemson jumbotron. Talk about structural health monitoring, huh?

The slam dunks measured by the system peak around 30 g’s. Compare that to the typical 5 g’s you’d experience on a roller coaster and you get an idea of the magnitude of force these superstars dunk with.

Oh yeah, and the students used LabVIEW to acquire and display the data. Check out the video and you’ll see the screen shots of their front panel. Booya!

Side note: In writing this blog post, I was compelled to include the following picture, as it reminded me of Morgan’s post on talking elephants.


Who knew they could shoot some hoops as well? And just think of the intensity of Dumbo’s slam dunk. Through the roof!

Morgan’s Post on remote monitoring of the medical clinic construction in Malawi reminded me of another, very cool way LabVIEW users are making the world a better place.

This one does not need much explanation. Kudos to the students at Penn State putting together such a powerful video for a such a powerful solution.

As a company full of male engineers, it’s no surprise that a fellow employee happened to be watching Spike TV last week and noted an interesting show. It’s a conversation topic that is shared amongst practically any social gathering of engineers:

Who would win in a fight to the death?
(Insert your historical warrior figure here) vs. (insert other warrior here)


A 2 hour- 45 minute conversation ensues, chock full of citations, estimations, equations and perhaps even re-enactments to judge which historial warrior is the deadliest. Oh yes, it gets extremley geeky.

Spike TV has created a show to tackle such a question: Deadliest Warrior. I happened to catch last week’s episode: Ninja vs. Spartan. It’s a lot like Myth Busters; lots of lab experiments to measure and analyze the fatality of the warrior weapons and the ruggedness of their armor. Piercing, stabbing, clubbing and impailing is tracked with accelerometers, high-speed cameras, gyroscopes, and strain gauges. Of course, it can get a little messy; most of the experimental runs are conducted on jello-like human test dummies and real pig cadavers. Mmm, delicious.

There’s a lot of data analysis that goes into determining who would win. What better tools to quickly and easily acquire and analyze massive amounts of sensor data? LabVIEW and DIAdem, of course. Watch the show and you’ll see our software on their laptop screens. Everytime you see the data being displayed, you are looking at NI software.

See for yourself (and see if you would agree with the outcome; I didn’t want to spoil it for you)

It’s cool when we find NI technologies used in everyday life. Take, for instance, the Seattle Monorail. The Aegis Group used LabVIEW and Compact FieldPointto build a structural health monitoring system to ensure reliable operation of Seattle’s public transportation facility.

Here’s how it works:

The cFP monitoring system acquires vital sensor measurements like acceleration, dynamic breaking, throttle position, and track position. Then, using a custom state machine software architecture written in LabVIEW, the system analyses the raw data and displays it to the monorail engineers. They can diagnose any displayed current spikes, which are the leading cause of drive shaft failures.

So for all of you who take the Seattle Monorail, sit back and enjoy the ride. you can rest easy knowing you will not share the same fate as Homer Simpson and the residents of Springfield. If only Lyle Lanley had sold them a monorail system that had incorporated the test solution from the Aegis Group.