- Buyers Guide
Pat Hindle, MWJ Editor
Timing is Everything - NIWeek 2014
Although I have heard a lot about NIWeek in previous years, this was my first time attending the event. It was like a mini-IMS but with a lot of fun displays and demos ranging from robots to UAVs to rockets. The science enabled by NI hardware and software is amazing, which is why this conference attracts thousands of engineers and scientists from around the world. I was given the privilege of doing several video interviews with some of the leading minds in our industry about exciting new applications being developed and NI’s participation in solving the challenges engineers are facing today. Here is a link to my photo gallery also.
Dr. T kicked off the event with a discussion about the importance of time, data analytics and connectivity. Synchronization timing has improved to the nano sec levels in board-to-board communications, across chips and across PXI backplanes with sub nano second synchronization across multiple PXI chassis. The next step is to reach for pico sec levels in the future with Distributed Time and Multirate & Parallel computation methods. Go Dr. T!
There were many big announcements of new NI products at the event and in the RF/microwave sector they did not disappoint the industry. With PXI-based modules expected to exceed $1 billion in sales by 2017, they announced a few RF and microwave related products. The first was a reconfigurable VSA operating to 26.5 GHz with 765 MHz of bandwidth. It is user programmable with the latest Xilinx FPGA and boasts speed improvements of 15x over traditional box instruments.
One of the biggest announcements was that NI is entering the semiconductor test market with pin programmable modules and RF test modules included in the systems. The RF test modules can perform up to 40 port measurements.
As if that was not enough for the RF market, on day 2 NI announced the development of a reconfigurable PXI-based oscilloscope showing a small cell test use case where a VST was used to capture several 2G, 3G and 4G signals simultaneously with a 10x reduction in capture time to speed up testing. The reconfigurable theme played throughout the week in many of the product releases.
While there were many cool applications demonstrated at the plenary talks, one of the most popular was given by John Lloyd of BRAINS Inc. He used NI equipment to analyze the concussion forces exerted on football helmets and found that rotational forces can be more severe than impact forces in causing concussions. Not only did he analyze the problem, he then went on to design a football helmet that reduces forces to the head by 50 percent. His simulated impact demonstration machine really hit home as he demonstrated those forces to a dummy head falling hard to the ground.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and future 5G communication systems were major themes throughout the presentations. The IoT work being done ranged from industrial sensor applications to automotive communications to consumer appliances. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications promises things such as sense and avoid technology and autonomous driving. It would be possible to eliminate stop lights as vehicles would automatically sense each other and communicate to avoid collisions while driving its passengers autonomously to their destination.
In the area of 5G research, Amitava Ghosh of Nokia was able to prototype the first 5G mmWave communications system using NI hardware and software within a year’s time. It achieves greater than 10 Gb/s peak data rate, 1 ms latency and 10,000 times the capacity of current technology exceeding the 1,000x challenge. Earlier this year, Lund University and NI announced a collaboration on the development of a test bed capable of prototyping a massive MIMO base station with 100 transmit and receive nodes. They can emulate a real-world scenario in order to evaluate how the performance of massive MIMO compares to theory.
There were many great sessions and panels every day after the plenary sessions, and we were able to interview many of the leading engineers and professors in our industry. In addition, there was a large exhibition including displays for each major NI market sector. On the RF and wireless side, NI featured AWR design software solutions, Phase Matrix synthesizers and various test/measurement solutions such as power amplifier characterization (DPD, ET, etc.), 5G proto-typing and SDR solutions. Surrounding all of the market sectors were NI partners, distributors and business partners. There were plenty of interactive displays all over the exhibition making an active and educational place to visit.