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Lowering the barrier to FPGA-based advanced control

13 August 2008

In August 2008 National Instruments announced a new version of LabVIEW (version 8.6) that includes a "scan engine" to make it easier for engineers to design advanced control systems with NI’s industrial controller, the CompactRIO.


Launched four years ago, the cRIO (Reconfigurable I/O) makes use of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) for very high performance. A new board-level version of cRIO, called NI Single-Board RIO, will help embedded developers get their devices to market more quickly.

The scan engine integrates timing into the programming language with a scanning I/O architecture, and is said to have determinism better than 500 ns. It also takes advantage of the flexibility of the FPGA on CompactRIO without requiring lengthy compilations. For example, engineers can convert any eight-channel digital input or output module into a counter, quadrature encoder or pulse-width modulation (PWM) module to interface with common digital sensors and actuators.

LabVIEW 8.6 also introduces additional control logic tools by providing IEC 61131-3 function blocks. And, to help engineers debug their systems, the software introduces an Ethernet-based maintenance tool that allows I/O forcing and displays current CPU and memory status as well as current I/O values and status.


LabVIEW’s scan engine introduces a rapid programming model that accommodates more flexible, direct FPGA customisation. It further reduces FPGA-based development time with new features that engineers can use to program the CompactRIO directly without having to separately program the FPGA. In addition, new simulation features reduce the number of time-consuming compilations by validating an FPGA application on the desktop.

Engineers now have two options for programming I/O modules. They can use the LabVIEW Real-Time Module to access I/O modules quickly with the new scan engine, or they can use the existing LabVIEW FPGA Module to develop custom code that directly interfaces with the module to perform very high-speed control or signal processing. This capability simplifies the creation of hybrid systems that mix test and control such as machine control and embedded machine condition monitoring applications.

For engineers who are programming the FPGA directly, new simulation features reduce the number of time-consuming compilations by validating an FPGA application on the desktop. Additionally, NI offers new intellectual property (IP) development and integration features including the new fast Fourier transform (FFT) IP core to increase application performance. With the new Component-Level IP (CLIP) Node, engineers easily can import existing or third-party IP into LabVIEW FPGA.


With the ‘Control Design and Simulation Module,’ engineers can use enhanced model predictive control functions to optimise processes with user-defined constraints such as power consumption as well as improved Kalman filters that can compensate for noisy or failing sensors. In addition, the module includes a range of advanced control tools such as analytical PID design, linear-quadratic regulator and state-space feedback, which can run in LabVIEW on the CompactRIO. NI claims that engineers can execute model-based simulations up to five times faster on multicore systems with the multicore-optimised simulation module.

Indeed, the opportunity for breakthrough performance in control systems increases as standard systems gain more processing cores. Expanding on the built-in multithreading technology of the LabVIEW platform, the new version offers supercomputing performance through multicore-optimised features which can help engineers process increasing amounts of measurement data to meet advanced control application challenges and increase test system throughput.


The new version of LabVIEW includes more than 1,200 newly-optimised advanced analysis functions that offer faster, enhanced math and signal processing on multicore systems for control and test applications. Vision applications also can benefit from multicore systems by using innovative image processing functions included in the NI Vision Development Module for LabVIEW 8.6 that automatically distributes data sets across multiple cores. Also using new multicore features, test engineers can develop applications to test wireless devices up to four times faster with the latest version of the NI Modulation Toolkit for LabVIEW and control system engineers can execute simulation models in parallel up to five times faster with the LabVIEW 8.6 Control Design and Simulation Module. Additionally, engineers can now better identify parallel sections of code using a new feature that reorganises LabVIEW diagrams.


The eight new sbRIO-96xx single-board computers expand the FPGA-based deployment platform offering which includes PXI, PC and the NI CompactRIO embedded control and data acquisition system that share the NI reconfigurable I/O (RIO) architecture

They combine a 266 or 400 MHz Freescale MPC5200 built on Power Architecture technology, reconfigurable 1M or 2M gate Xilinx FPGA, and analogue and digital I/O. As with the CompactRIO, engineers can use NI LabVIEW to customise the hardware and develop all aspects of their embedded systems.

The onboard analogue and digital I/O connects directly to the FPGA to provide low-level customisation of timing and I/O signal processing. Engineers can also expand the I/O capabilities using the devices’ three expansion slots for connecting any NI C-Series I/O module or custom modules that they develop. There are more than forty C Series modules for I/O and communication such as acceleration, temperature, power quality, controller-area network (CAN) and motion.

Readers can visit to watch a demonstration video, read more information, and reserve an evaluation kit for the Single-Board RIO devices.

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