VirtualBench Tear Down

What do you get when you cross a mixed-signal oscilloscope, a function generator, a multimeter, a power supply, and some programmable digital I/O in a box? Sounds like the set up to a very geeky joke, but it is actually National Instrument’s VirtualBench product. [Shahriar] has one and wanted to know what was inside, so he did a tear down.

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Talking, Foot-Pedal-Controlled Bench Probes for VirtualBench

Developing new products can be challenging during the debug and test phases, often you have your head down trying to probe the lead of some SOT23 transistor, and just when you get it, you scan your eyes up and find that your multimeter is measuring resistance and not voltage.

[Charles] had this issue compounded on his NI Virtual Instrument. It has an interface totally driven from a PC, which may or may not be in a convenient location to mouse around. Luckily NI just released an API for the 5 in one lab test station and [Charles] quickly whipped up a python wrapper which gives him ultimate control over the instrument.

Tying the script to a USB footpedal and adding some text-to-speech capabilities using google’s API [Charles] is easily able to switch from continuity to voltage to resistance and anything else he pleases with just the tap of a foot and listening to the measurements, making sure he never takes his eyes off the work which is risking a short.

Join us after the break for a quick video demonstration.

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Music-synced Christmas light suit

Ah, the end of the 4th financial quarter – the magical time of increased sales, being at work the entire time the sun is up, and holiday parties. For [Andy] at National Instruments, though, things don’t seem too bad. He built a neat Christmas light suit to entertain everyone with his brilliant persona.

[Andy] always loves great Christmas light displays (he even blogs about them), so he figured a wearable light display synchronized with music would be very doable. The build is controlled with LabVIEW to convert .WAV files to power levels and frequency bands. This info is then piped into the Arduino that controls the lights.

[Andy] actually made two light suits, one for him and one for his friend [Richard]. Both guys have two light-up Christmas staffs to wield light mage powers on their coworkers. The lighsuits are controlled by Arduino/Xbee setups – one each for each suit and staff. The result is phenomenal, and should really get everyone in the holiday spirit.

Easy data input for LabVIEW

Props go to [Michael Nash] for establishing an interface between National Instrument’s labVIEW and an Arduino (an example video using a potentiometer is above). Personally, from the one time we were forced to use labVIEW, we hated every second of it.

One reason it’s so terrible, is the Data Acquisition Modules cost well into the hundreds of dollars, yet the documentation and help resources are very scarce. By using an Arduino instead of the modules, the price and difficulty decrease a considerable amount. Which begs the question why has it taken so long to get a decent (and so simple) of a setup working?