Those of you who have read Outside Innovation will recall the story about the partnership between LEGO and National Instruments (brokered by Dr. Chris Rogers who promotes engineering in elementary/primary school curricula, catalyzed by a kids’ robotics competition in Austin, Texas, and cemented during a rain-soaked soccer game). As a result, Dr. Truchard, (“Dr. T”), National Instruments’ founder and chairman, authorized an innovative partnership to embed NI’s $2,000 LabVIEW software platform into the software that would be sold as part of a $200 Mindstorms NXT kit to kids and teachers.
Photo by: usfirst.org
On April 17th, National Instruments took a further leap in extending its market to the younger set. They announced a partnership with FIRST to provide the robotics controllers (hardware and firmware) to be used in the robotics kits for the FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC)—the robotics league for High School kids. This is a multimillion dollar in-kind donation.
So now National Instruments is providing hardware as well as software,
and it is extending its reach from 8-year-old engineers through to high
school age kids.
The benefit to the kids is that this new platform will be less expensive, reducing the cost of the kits from approximately $15,000 down to closer to $2,000. (Each team has to raise the money to purchase the robotics’ kit they’ll need each year.)
The new robotics controller is National Instruments’ CompactRIO platform. According to the press release, it “gives high school students access to advanced control capabilities and superior performance, including a 400 MHz PowerPC and FPGA-based I/O. The CompactRIO modular I/O system offers connectivity to a wide array of sensor and actuator options and powerful real-time vision processing to build a highly advanced robot. Students will be able to create robots that may be driver-controlled or run in fully autonomous mode using the latest technologies including wireless monitoring and simulation for more in-competition control and more accurate designs.”
Photo by National Instruments
What interests me about this Compact Rio Controller is that it uses Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) from Xilinx. These kids will be programming computer chips in much the same way that professional designers working for the world’s most advanced technology companies do their jobs. Students can program their robots based on CompactRIO in either NI LabVIEW graphical programming software or in C.
Building an Ecosystem for Engineering Innovation. The press release goes on to explain that “several key technology suppliers have collaborated with NI to provide in-kind donations of components required to build the CompactRIO control system. These industry-leading technology companies include Analog Devices, Boston Engineering, ChipX, Dove Electronics, Freescale, MSI, Texas Instruments, TTI, Westak, Wind River, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Xilinx. Their support is helping NI to supply a leading-edge, highly sophisticated embedded platform equivalent to the most advanced industrial systems.”
"Our goal is to have a FIRST team in every high school and to change the culture in our communities to celebrate excellence in science and engineering the same way we celebrate sports," said Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST and president of DEKA Research & Development Corporation. "It's the support of partners like NI that is helping FIRST make that goal a reality."
Photo by www.popularmechanics.com/firstrobotics
National Instruments is being really smart. This partnership will give over 150,000 students in all FIRSTFIRST will increase the technical capabilities of the teams' robots while making the programming more accessible to a much larger and diverse group of students because of the ease of use and productivity in NI LabVIEW graphical programming."
For more info, go to http://www.usFIRST.org or http://www.ni.com/academic/k12 for more information on the National Instruments academic program. competitions access to a progressive programming platform starting with LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT-G (which is based on NI’s LabVIEW) and continuing through to using NI LabVIEW directly (without the young kids’ interface). NI’s Ray Almgren, who partnered with Soren Lund’s team at LEGO to develop Mindstorms NXT for young kids, said, “This robotics software continuum introduces students to age-appropriate technology in an exciting, hands-on learning environment. By adding CompactRIO and LabVIEW to the robotics platform of their competition,