05 Nov 2012

Interview with Dr Truchard National Instruments Co-Founder & President (Page 2 of 2)

We continued to talk about LabVIEW and also the hardware developed and built by the company.

With the company producing both hardware and software, I wanted to ask whether Dr T considered the company was mainly a hardware or a software company?

Replying Dr T said: “Well I would say we are a system or a platform company because we use the hardware to do what we can’t do in software. I suppose we are a very software-centric but you still need hardware. We think that you need to get as close to the front as you can with software. For example our new product, the VST [Vector Signal Transceiver] we tried to get as close to the front as we could. So we’re always going to try to eliminate the hardware because you can’t change it as easily to keep up. This is the concept behind the VST Software Designed Instrument.”

Commenting about the new terminology, at the launch, I had been thinking of the term Software Defined Instrument like the Software Defined Radio.

Dr.T added: “Yes I agree, we have been using the term Software Defined Radio for so long that it is a little difficult to remember all the time, but we decided to use the term Software Designed, because it links in with the Graphical System Design and the user can effectively design the instrument he wants.”

NI Software Designed Vector Signal Transceiver in a Rack

NI Software Designed Vector Signal Transceiver in a Rack

“It links in with LabVIEW. It started out as a graphical measurement system, but is now a graphical system design package.”

Industry challenges

The electronics industry is a place of rapid change, so I asked Dr T what he thought the main challenges were in the industry.

“Obviously the devices are becoming considerably more complex, so you have to have methodologies that can abstract whenever possible. And that is why the system level design and test is so useful. You can go across the different levels of abstraction like we do.”

“By being able to test at different levels of the V in the system design process it is possible to help in the test and verification of the system.”

Having seen some of the capabilities of LabVIEW in the systems engineering arena, I asked whether LabVIEW might also enter the requirements management process as well as it would enable the whole process to come under one development package.

In response Dr Truchard said: “We are actually working together with the DOORS requirements system but what we will do is slightly different. We focus on simulating at the system level because for us simulation and implementation are often the same thing. You can literally develop a mathematical description of the system automatically in LabVIEW and then simulate it.”

Algorithm engineering

“I call this algorithm engineering: where you have an algorithm but you can implement it in the same system so you don’t have to do it twice to check it out. In the real word you face the real facts so we want to be able to create the real world as close as we can. When there are a lot of steps to proving a design the more we can do in LabVIEW the better.”

LabVIEW Graphical System Design in Use

LabVIEW Graphical System Design in Use

Seeing that this could bring real benefits into the overall engineering process I asked how this had affected NI products?

“So you can have building blocks in LabVIEW that you can use and get going as soon as possible works well. But you also have to be able to view them and modify them to add special features. As you know in the wireless area, standards are constantly changing. You need to be able to use algorithm engineering to be at the front of the process defining the new standard so you can implement it and check out that it really works right. Then you will be completely ready when it is finished and you don’t have to start your testing at the end. So this way you can get ahead of the curve. Test needs to be ahead of the design process instead of the behind it.”

“We saw this with the IEEE 802.11ac chips from Qualcomm where they were able to get a sufficient measurement speed with the new VST to be able to properly characterise a chip rather than just having to interpolate between points and assume the performance in various areas. This means they were sure of the product before they went to test and launch it. They even managed to get much better performance this way because they saw new features they could, add because of the testing they did.”

The future

Obviously it is interesting to see how the future will unfold, so I asked about Dr T’s views about the main changes and challenges he saw for the future.

He said: “Scaling is one of the main challenges. As we become more successful we’re getting smaller systems and circuits. These are both opportunities and challenges for us. This is happening in all areas of electronics and we have been investing a lot in that over the past years so we can be prepared for it.”

I asked whether there were any other areas where he saw the market evolving.

“Obviously for us communication test is going to be a big area, The VST shows the software defined radio approach to test instrumentation so implementing systems where our form factors are appropriate and doing it with products such as CompactRIO and FlexRIO and now we are doing the VST as well.”

NI PXIe-5644R VST, Vector Signal Transceiver

NI PXIe-5644R VST Vector Signal Transceiver

So I asked how this would affect the product strategy.

“I think we will see more software designed instruments, this is a continuum building to a crescendo we are now have the capability and functionality that we can expand into other areas.”

“We will also be expanding LabVIEW into other areas. One example was where we saw LabVIEW being used with DSP in a way that is nice for signal processing experts. So wherever scientists and engineers are using software and simulation we are expanding across the spectrum.”

I commented that I had seen that Dr T was still very hands on. I asked if he still enjoyed engineering.

“Yes,” he said, “I enjoy visiting customer’s and marketing and for the VST I met once a week on the project so it was good to see how it was developing and take an interest. I try to be very hands on across the board. I also enjoyed these big physics experiments: I saw the big experiment in CERN, and also some others gave me personal tours by the director. So that was good”

Our time was up so Dr T had to move on, but it had been an enjoyable time chatting over the way NI, LabVIEW and the new VST were changing the course of the company and many others.

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About the author

Ian Poole is the editor of Radio-Electronics.com. Having studied at University College London to gain his degree he went on to undertake a career in electronic development working for companies including Racal. He became the hardware development manager at Racal Instruments where he was in charge of the hardware development activities within the company. Later moving in to freelance work as a consultant he also developed Radio-Electronics.com to become one of the leading publications for professional electronics engineers. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is the author of over 20 books.

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