National Instruments (NI) recently released the latest version of LabVIEW -- LabVIEW 8.5, which delivers the power of multi-core processors to engineers and scientists.
According to Jayaram Pillai, MD, India, Russia & Arabia, NI, new processors with multicore are coming out. Processing power is now split into two separate cores. With multicore, you are doing parallel processing. LabVIEW is a very dataflow programming tool. It is not sequential -- it is decided by the data itself. And inherently, it has always been parallel processing. NI has taken the advantage from LabVIEW 5 -- due to dual-core processing. It used multi-threaded architecture.
Assign different tasks on different cores
With processor technology shifting to multi-core, there is a need to run efficiently on the processor. For LabVIEW, you can assign different tasks on different cores -- which are independent. They don't have to run at the same speed. Those are the challenges multi-core seeks to address.
The technology NI has, the single application that you can build in LabVIEW, it aids in taking advantage of multicore. Part of a program can be assigned to one core. Another part is, if you don't want to club, it can run on the another core. All of this happens on one program.
So how is the new version better? As you want to accomplish more things, you have to go to higher levels of extractions (or abstractions). The graphical program is a very high level of abstraction. You can accomplish more with the graphical programming.
Another area where LabVIEW is finding itself is in the design space. Building systems today is very complex. NI builds into three stages -- design-prototype-deploy.
As an example, the Railways want to detect trains that have bad wheels. They collect data from railway lines -- lot of signal processing and maths were done. NI knows how to detect defective wheels. It put sensors to that signal, go to the field and do some trials. Once you know the algorithms and the BIOS required, you can go into designing. You take the prototype and make that into a product. Each stage, in the past, used different tools.
Since it is all the way -- from design to deployment -- it can all be done with LabVIEW. This capability -- that it can start at design and prototype, etc., brings greater value to engineers. NI call this process as graphical system design.
Commenting on NI's activities in India, Jayaram Pillai said LabVIEW 8.5 is a major release. "Over the last 10 years we've been in India, we have changed its hardware platdform. One thing that remains common is LabVIEW and what it does for scientists and engineers. We've been able to create a community around LabVIEW. There are users and programmers of LabVIEW. There are certified developers, companies that have been built around LabVIEW. There are applications built around LabVIEW," he added.
Looking at graphical programming, over the last 10 yrs -- the biggest challenge for Pillai has been to address customers needs for engineers who can program LabVIEW. There's enough excitement in the market about LabVIEW. There are 1,100 jobs at least for LabVIEW.
There are people writing toolkits that can work with LabVIEW, which includes IP, developers, companies, customers, products, systems built around LabView. This has been happening within India.
Pillai said that similar to any technology adoption, there's a take-off stage. "It is called the S Curve, and we are at the bottom of the curve. The potential is huge. Our big challenge is to be able to create more engineers in the market. I feel that over 1,000 engineers are required," he added.
From an academic standpoint -- India has about 400,000+ engineers passing out each year. Only 25 percent are hireable, with reasonable training, by companies. The IITs, state governments, etc. take care of it. That means, there are business opportunities for companies to start finishing schools for training these people for the industry.
Lots of companies are getting into these finishing schools. These students will learn about the tools that they would later need to use.
Pillai stressed that it was important how the country looks at academicians. He said: "We haven't got into this stage as much. The IT industry has done very well and created a huge appetite for engineers. The majority of engineers passing out are hired by the IT companies."
He added: "LabVIEW is getting accepted by people in various projects. We've created a LabVIEW community -- the whole ecosystem."
Outlook for 2008
According to Pillai, algorithm enineering is key during the design phase. LabVIEW 8.5 has a new tool for design stage of the graphical system design.
With LabVIEW, users can increase performance through graphical programming for multi-core processors and FPGAs. Pillai said: "At the design stage, you want to give the engineer multiple computing options. The engineer is concerned about deployment, but he would like to move from Windows to real-time. This should be done seamlessly. LabVIEW FPGA has been around for a long time."
Programming in FPGA is not simple. NI's offer to engineers is: look at the FPGA as a platform and program it freely without even needing to know what's the VHDL code! LabVIEW can run on Windows, and move to RTOS and FPGA, and all of it is seamless.
As an example, Lego has a product called Mindstorm -- a robot. That robot has sensors. It is targeted at 10-yr olds. On one side, a 10-yr old can program LabVIEW. All details are there in LabVIEW. On another side, it can be used in the largest, physics experiments. So LabVIEW is not complex to use.
LabView has been shipping formally since last month.