NI opens up test with software-designed instrument
National Instruments has introduced its first test instrument which can have its function completely designed in software by the test engineer using LabView.
The first software designed instrument is a PXIe-based RF vector signal transceiver intended for design and manufacture of LTE mobiles and other wireless systems.
More software designed instruments will follow.
“This is the first completely software designed instrument,” Luke Schreier, senior group manager for automated test at National Instruments told Electronics Weekly.
It is the combination of different measurement functions in one module – RF front-end, high speed data conversion and digital signal processing in a Virtex 6 FPGA.
All test and analysis functions can be selected and programmed using LabView software.
“There is no wall between what can be programmed on a PC and what can be programmed on the instrument, the instrument’s firmware is there in LabView,” said Schreier.
Jeff Kodosky, business and technology fellow and cofounder of National Instruments, called it a fundamental change in the way instrumentation is designed and used.
“The focus is no longer on “how do I fit the instrument to the measurement I want?” Instead, it is on “how should I make the ideal measurement?” said Kodosky.
“LabVIEW is causing the revolution in instrumentation design,” said Kodosky.
By enabling scientists and engineers to use software to design their systems, Kodosky said they are freeing them from “the tyranny of vendor-defined choices”.
NI believes the capability to design a test instrument’s function in LabView has the potential to change the way in which a range of test systems are used.
“This applies to every measurement you would wish to make and so we will be rolling out other software designed instruments,” said Schreier.
The test company is making the instrument firmware open source and will encourage the engineering community to create an ecosystem for the instrument and make software test functions open for general use.
“Software for instruments has not traditionally been open and the test industry has not kept pace with the potential of the software ecosystem,” said Schreier.
This first software-designed instrument is the PXIe-5644R RF vector signal transceiver, which combines a vector signal generator and vector signal analyser with a user-programmable FPGA into a single PXI modular instrument.
As a result engineers can use the LabView design system to optimise the FPGA-based test hardware for specific mobile protocols and other wireless applications, such as low energy Bluetooth.
The instrument covers up to 6.0GHz and has an 80MHz instantaneous RF bandwidth. This makes the transceiver suitable for wireless standards such as 802.11ac and LTE.
It can be expanded to support multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) configurations or parallel testing in a single PXI chassis.