Automation pros have a proud history of do-it-yourself creativity and innovation. They’ll build their own programming tool if the one they’re envisioning doesn’t exist. They invent new machines and processes for their companies and customers. But even do-it-yourselfers don’t go it totally alone—they want access to good tools and other creative minds. Automation vendor National Instruments is using consumer technology and a partnership with TechShop to give a boost to those DIYers who don’t have access to well-stocked labs, benchtop instruments or adequately funded R&D facilities:
National Instruments is providing product and training to equip two TechShop electronics labs with NI technology. TechShop locations in San Francisco and Round Rock, Texas, will be equipped with LabVIEW system design software and myRIO, myDAQ and VirtualBench hardware.
Part fabrication and prototyping studio and part learning center, TechShop is a membership-based series of centers located around the U.S. that provides access to more than $1 million worth of high-quality machines, tools and software. TechShop lets members “explore the world of making in a collaborative and creative environment,” and offer comprehensive instruction and expert staff to ensure a safe, meaningful and rewarding experience, says Mark Hatch, CEO and cofounder. The facilities also provide members with access to classes, workshops and instruction, as well as the chance to meet and collaborate with other creative people.
“TechShop and NI have one common mission: to equip engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and makers with the tools and training they need to build their dreams,” said Hatch. “Now, TechShop members will have at their fingertips leading-edge hardware and software for any test, measurement or control application to make tomorrow’s engineering feats and innovations.”
TechShop is based in San Jose, Calif., and also has two other locations in California. Additional locations are planned for or established in Arizona, Texas, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, Mo. As the company grows, the number of locations offering NI products and training will increase, said Hatch.
In June NI introduced VirtualBench, an all-in-one instrument that integrates a mixed-signal oscilloscope, function generator, digital multimeter, programmable DC power supply and digital I/O. Users interact with VirtualBench through software applications that run on PCs or iPads. The VirtualBench app for iPad will be available in the App Store later this summer.
“The device provides the most common functionality affordably, and opens up new possibilities for how engineers can use benchtop instruments,” says Ray Almgren, vice president of corporate marketing at NI. “NI has revolutionized the way engineers develop modern measurement and control systems in an increasingly complex world. We’re excited to partner with TechShop to make that same technology available to its members through the new NI Electronics Lab,” he adds.
Because VirtualBench uses consumer-computing platforms, engineers and scientists can take advantage of the latest technologies like multitouch displays, multicore processors, wireless connectivity and intuitive interfaces, says Chad Chesney, director of data acquisition marketing at NI. The simplification and increased capability through software leads to more efficient circuit debugging and validation, he says.
“We are building on what NI does best, which is our software-based approach to test and measurement. VirtualBench’s software user experience is more intuitive, creating efficiencies that go above and beyond simply having these five devices in a single device,” Chesney says.
Russell Stanphil, electronics advisor at TechShop, says, “Before, I didn’t have the room or budget to buy a full setup for each bench. I can now park one laptop and a VirtualBench on each seat, replacing four to five boxes.”