LabView 7 Express promises imaging upgrades

This month, National Instruments (NI; Austin, TX, USA; www.ni.com) will roll out the latest version of its LabView software, LabView 7 Express.

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This month, National Instruments (NI; Austin, TX, USA; www.ni.com) will roll out the latest version of its LabView software, LabView 7 Express. Improvements over Version 6.1 include higher-level programming interfaces for system hardware and software configuration and support for application targets that include the company's own embedded FPGA board, Palm OS, and Microsoft Pocket PC PDAs. Developers who use LabView 7 will especially like the so-called Express Virtual Instruments (VIs) and DAQ Assistant provided in the package.

In Version 6.1, developers looking to perform common operations such as an FFT or a write-to-file had to first choose a VI to perform these operations and wire in the correct parameters. Using a data-flow-type concept, these VIs were then wired together to perform a fully functional task. Now, with the introduction of Express VIs, this operation has been simplified. Using the 38 initially supplied Express VIs, developers need only call a single interactive VI, such as a spectral measurements Express VI, which can be tailored to perform many different frequency-domain operations.

"This reduces the complexity of developing programs for the most common measurement and automation applications," says Nicole McGarry, LabView product manager. To reduce development time further, the company also has introduced a number of hardware assistants that include DAQ Assistant and the Instrument I/O Assistant.

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LabView 7 Express, an upgrade to LabView graphical development software, delivers a more powerful and flexible tool in an easy-to-navigate environment (top). It introduces a series of virtual instruments (VIs) that encapsulate the functionality of tens of VIs into interactive dialogs to reduce the complexity of designing measurement tasks (bottom).
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In addition to autodetecting any NI data-acquisition boards in the system, the assistants can configure and define data-acquisition tasks, prototype instrument-control systems, and take data measurements. In many systems, off-the-shelf data-acquisition, motion-control, and imaging hardware can be used with other custom products. In extremely high-performance applications, it may be necessary to create custom hardware to meet specific high-speed requirements. Recognizing this, NI also has introduced an FPGA-based PXI-board, the PXI-7831R, which can be programmed in LabView to perform such tasks.

"Rather than require engineers to use VHDL to create custom FPGA-based hardware," says McGarry, "developers can now use the intuitive graphical LabView environment to create custom-reconfigurable I/O hardware at a much lower cost and development time." When this is complete, the software transparently invokes a Xilinx VHDL tool suite compiling the code for the FPGA. For the first time, LabView users can use and develop specialized hardware using a single environment.

Developers of hand-held products also benefit from the release of LabView 7 Express. Now, programs developed in LabView can be compiled and automatically optimized for display on Palm or Pocket PC operating systems. Applications for these PDAs can then communicate with other devices using IrDA, wireless Ethernet, RS-232, or Bluetooth standards.

According to Ray Almgren, NI vice president of product marketing and academic relations, NI plans more product introductions that will include Express VIs and hardware assistants for the company's line of motion-control and image-processing products. In addition, the company plans to take the concept of the new high-level software FPGA programmability to a new LabVIEW-based machine-vision system featuring FireWire support for multiple cameras, Ethernet capability, external triggering support, and digital I/O capability.

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