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:



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!

Our Northern Europe Office sent over an article where NI was featured. The headline (translated) is something like “Joining a Listen When Elephants Talk.” I love animals (no doubt this will become more noticable as my posts continue), so natually, I was stoked.

Talking elephants, though?

This is all I could think of:


Remember that little French elephant?

Well, Denmark doesn’t have Babar after all these years, but they do have a new language laboratory in the Copenhagen Zoo, where they can listen and understand elephants communicating with each other.

NI and Brüel & Kjær Sound & Vibration (B & K) Copenhagen donated a system that can record, analyze and play back the sounds of elephants and other animals with some Brüel & Kjær hardware and LabVIEW.

Elephants make sounds to say things like “follow me” or “want to mate?” (clearly, animals are much more direct than we humans are). They can communicate with low-frequency vibrations because not only are their ears sensitive, but their feet are as well, feeling vibrations through the ground.

Here is where it gets weird:

So, the girl elephants don’t always want to communicate. Sometimes they play hard-to-get, or are just giving each other the cold shoulder. Sheesh girl elephants, I would never do that.

You know how the zookeepers get them to talk? My guess would be just to poke them with a stick, or offer them a glass of wine (that seems to always work with me). Nope. Guess again. Throw them some boy-elephant poo at them. That’s right. Read it again. They throw the boy-elephant poo at the girl elephants. Throw some crap at them and they will get to talking.I can’t imagine what those conversations are about.

Next steps for the researchers involve trying to understand communication between the mother and her baby during child birth.

**Animal friendliness note: The zoo is making sure not to cause any stress to the animals by monitoring their sound!

You can also read the full article. I hope you are from Denmark, because it is in Danish and I can’t figure out how to get Google Translator to translate it. I am sure you can.




More about the application:

Brüel & Kjær developed a microphone that can capture low frequency sounds that elephants use to communicate with each other. Elephants essential communication sounds have frequencies that are typically between five and 20 Hz, and can only be captured by humans as vibrations.

With an analog-to-digital converter, sounds pass from the microphone to a PC and then with NI LabVIEW, sounds can be played and displayed graphically so that researchers can study patterns of animal sounds and analyze them.

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.