Skip navigation


1 2 Previous Next

Sweet Apps

17 Posts authored by: eek

Recall from the NIWeek 2010 Day Three Keynote: Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, predicted the next 20 years of technology development, describing tiny robots that would travel throughout the body, taking readings, administering medication and performing tiny microscopic procedures, all while we go about our daily routines.


An early prototype of HeartLander, a small robot that can adhere to and traverse a beating heart. Image reproduced from Nicholas Patronik, Carnegie Melon University.


Researchers at the Carnegie Melon Robotics Institute are one step ahead of us, delivering the HeartLander, a miniature robotic device that can crawl around the surface of the heart, taking measurements and performing simple surgical tasks, all while the heart continues to pump blood throughout the body. We read Nicholas Patronik’s Ph.D. thesis describing this project (and we encourage everyone to check it out).Here is what we learned.

Robot-assisted surgery

NI technologies have been used for robot-assisted surgeries before, but the HeartLander robot addresses two major challenges of cardiac therapy and surgery:
•    Gaining access to the heart without opening the chest
•    Operating on the heart while it is beating


Several options for tackling these challenges exist today. Thoracoscopic techniques use laparoscopic tools inserted through the chest cavity to operate on the beating heart (think DaVinci Robot). While this avoids cracking open the rib cage (ouch!), even less invasive methods exist for accessing the heart and performing simpler procedures, like dye injections. Percutaneous transvenous techniques access inner organs through main arteries and veins. For example, a doctor can guide a heart stent through the veins in your thigh to treat blockages, and this procedure is performed on an outpatient basis. While these transvenous procedures are easier to recover from, thoracoscopic techniques offer much more flexibility in the complexity of surgical operations that can be performed.


illustration of heartlander.jpg

Illustration of HeartLander concept. Image reproduced from Nicholas Patronik, Carnegie Melon University.


The HeartLander robot is considered a hybrid of these two approaches in that it can achieve fine control of thoracoscopic techniques while maintaining the ability to be performed on an outpatient basis, like the percutaneous transvenous techniques. It adheres to and traverses the heart’s surface, the epicardium, providing a tool for precise and stable interaction with the beating heart. Even better, it can access difficult to reach locations of the heart such as the posterior wall of the left ventricle (the side of your heart that faces your back).


How it works

The HeartLander is launched onto the surface of the beating heart through a small puncture underneath the bottom of the sternum. From there, the robot steadily traverses the epicardium like an inchworm. Offboard linear motors actuate the robot forward while solenoids regulate vacuum pressure to suction pads. Watch a video of early prototypes inching across an inflated balloon, a synthetic beating heart and a porcine beating heart to see HeartLander’s motion in action (warning: the video clips get progressively graphic in nature).



An umbilical tether sends and receives information between the HeartLander and the control station, where the pressure to the suction pads is monitored and controlled to maintain grip at all times. The mobility of the robot is semiautonomous: it uses a pure pursuit tracking algorithm to navigate to predetermined surface targets, and can also be controlled via teleoperation.


heartlander closeup.jpg

Photograph of the HeartLander crawling robot. Two drive wires transmit the actuation from off-board motors for locomotion. A 6-DOF electromagnetic tracking sensor is mounted to the front of the body. Image reproduced from Nicholas Patronik, Carnegie Melon University.

It can navigate to any location on the epicardium, with clock speeds up to 4 mm per second, and acquire localization targets within 1 mm. But our favorite part about this application is that the robot’s motion is controlled entirely with LabVIEW software and NI data acquisition hardware.

So far, the HeartLander has been successfully demonstrated through a series of closed-chest, beating-heart porcine studies. We don’t have tiny robotic heart worms crawling around in us just yet. But we’re certainly excited to see how the HeartLander project progresses and we’re proud that NI technologies are helping pave the way for incredible, futuristic innovations like this.

>>Learn more about the HeartLander project on CMU’s website

>>Discover other autonomous robots designed and controlled using LabVIEW software


Our co-founder and CEO, Dr. James Truchard (we know him as Dr. T) is a big proponent of the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering, defined by the National Academy of Engineering. One of these world-wide challenges is to provide energy from fusion.

Fusion is one of the elusive alternative energy sources that have yet to be deemed practical. Why? Because, as of today, fusion reactors still consume more energy than they actually produce. To create fusion, it takes enormous amounts of heat and gravitational pressure to compress the nuclei of certain atoms into heavier nuclei, which releases energy. As such, human-engineered fusion has only been demonstrated on a small scale (excluding the formidable demonstrations of hydrogen bombs).

However, an underground sub-culture of DIY engineers and scientists have been tackling this challenge completely on their own, sans governmental stipends, institutional grants and shiny, new equipment. In fact, Mark Suppes has built his own fusion reactor in the comfort of his own workshop, thanks in part to low-cost data acquistion hardware (NI USB-6008) and a borrowed copy of LabVIEW 2009 software (which he had to install on a Mac, since his second-hand PC didn't have a DVD drive!).

We first caught wind of his wicked-awesome project when we happened to get a glance of the USB DAQ device in a CNN cover story:


We then found Mark's blog, Prometheus Fusion Perfection, where he is documenting his entire design process (subscribe to this blog if you're even the slightest geek, it is so incredibly interesting).

Turns out, Mark is using LabVIEW to set parameters for various fusion trials, and has even controlled the fusor using the graphical programming language. He's also working on integrating the USB-6008 with another programming language, Ruby. It seems LabVIEW got him up and running, aquiring data, quickly and efficiently.

Watch the CNN cover story video to learn more about how Mark is attempting to capture one of the greatest engineering feats of all time:


Learn more about NI's low-cost USB DAQ offering for your own application.


When the Racing Green Endurance (RGE) team departed from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay in early July to begin their more than 16,000 mile journey on the Pan-American Highway, they did so in an electric sports car powered, in part, by NI LabVIEW and NI CompactRIO.




RGE is a student-led project at Imperial College London that aims to demonstrate the potential of zero-emission cars. The team partnered with Radical Sportscars to produce the SRZero electric sports car, which is based on the chassis of the Radical SR8, a British supercar that, until recently, held the Nürburgring lap record for the fastest production car in the world. The SRZero uses a fully electric powertrain that can achieve a top speed of 120 mph. The car has a unique twin-motor electric drive system that makes it possible for the car to travel further than any other electric car before needing to be recharged. Based on their collaboration with RGE, Radical Sportscars plans to launch a production version of the vehicle in 2011.


LabVIEW and CompactRIO power the car’s control systems, making it possible for RGE to integrate all the components in the power train. CompactRIO controls the battery management system to monitor and protect the health of the Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries. CompactRIO also manages motor controllers, driver interfaces and the car’s safety systems.




"CompactRIO, powered by LabVIEW, is the brain of the car," said Alec de Zegher, chief control engineer on the project. "The control system we have built using NI tools enables us to tightly integrate and manage all the different systems on the car."


Toby Schulz, the team’s energy and vehicle systems engineer, added, "We chose CompactRIO to run the SRZero because of its powerful, robust and flexible nature, important attributes when building an experimental electric vehicle. With CompactRIO, our control systems can be adapted and expanded at ease. From our experience with Formula Student, we knew using LabVIEW graphical programming and CompactRIO reconfigurable hardware would enable us to rapidly design and iteratively prototype advanced control systems for the car, allowing us to get from initial concept to a full, road-legal deployment in just months."


RGE will drive the car from Alaska to the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia, Argentina, and if successful, will become the first electric car to travel the entire Pan-American Highway. One of the team’s stops on their journey will be Austin, Texas, during the first week of August for NIWeek 2010.


Visit the team’s website to learn more about the car and the technology powering it and to follow their progress by blog and via a live tracking map.



Posted by eek Jun 16, 2010

This latest sweet app has us at a loss for words. This. Is. Just. TOO. COOL!

Some LEGO fanatics have taken robotic chess to a new level, creating a monster-sized army of robot chess pieces, fully autonomous and ready to school you in a game of chess.

A design team of 5 engineers spent about a year creating this demonstration, which they will feature live at this year's Brickworld, an annual conference for Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOLs). Each chess piece is controlled by a LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT and is programmed in LabVIEW, using the free LabVIEW Toolkit for LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT. The pieces perform autonomous navigation, communicating with each other to coordinate moves and manuver around the gigantic chess board. A human can also remotely control the pieces and challenge the robot army to game of chess.

100,000 LEGO pieces later, the team has one of the coolest LEGO creations we've ever seen. Check out this video to see the robotic chess pieces in action:

The team's leader, Steve Hassenplug, puts it best:"LEGO builders are becoming insane. And I enjoy that."

Well, we're glad LabVIEW helped facilitate the insanity. Keep the MINDSTORMS creations coming.

For more information about the MONSTER CHESS project, visit

Check out the free LabVIEW Toolkit for LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT.

Toyota recently announced a new strategic partnership with a small automotive startup called Tesla, currently the only automaker in the U.S. that builds and sells highway-capable electric vehicles (EVs). For example, the Tesla Roadster can accelerate faster than most combustion-based sports cars, yet produces zero emissions.

Toyota and Tesla have partnered together, purchasing a production plant in California to start mass producing Tesla’s electric cars (hence the grin from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he shakes hands with the CEOs from Toyota and Tesla).

This new deal provides Toyota access to new, cutting-edge technology. While Toyota has been a leader in developing fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, it hasn’t made the leap to a fully electric car. Tesla, on the other hand, manufactures EVs and EV powertrain components, not only selling electric cars, but the powertrains and battery packs that are used in them.

Battery Testing for Electric Vehicles

Tesla manufactures a unique battery pack that is liquid-cooled to enhance performance and for extended life. It contains no toxic chemicals and more than 85 percent of the components can be recycled. Its design is based on cylindrical lithium-ion cells, similar to those used in laptop computers. Tesla engineers must test every component of the battery pack to ensure battery functionality, durability, and safety.

And guess what: They utilize NI products, like PXI and CompactDAQ, on a daily basis to measure the voltage, current and temperature from the battery packs. LabVIEW  is used to monitor, process, and record the test data. These test data help Tesla guarantee the safety, performance, and quality customers expect from their batteries and the vehicles they power.

All of this engineering culminates into a sweet ride worthy of the Sweet Apps blog. I want to take a ride.


To learn more about EV battery testing, check out this white paper on NI Developer Zone Community.


Discovery Channel isn’t the only network that has picked up National Instruments tooling for their rapid prototyping projects, on shows like MythBusters.

The engineers and show hosts on Spike TV have also adopted NI technologies, like LabVIEW and DIAdem, to perform extreme data acquisition and data crunching, on shows like Deadliest Warrior.

Check out Spike TV’s latest sci-tech reality show, Crash Test: Real Wrecks, Real Stakes.

Here's the premise of the show: an elite team of top-notch stuntmen, scientists, and investigators as they recreate full scale accidents to prove who is guilty or innocent. Gyros, accelerometers, load cells and the like are placed all over the stuntmen’s bodies to see just what kind of trauma the defendants/survivors went through. These stuntmen basically act as real-life-crash-test dummies.

The pilot episode aired back in late April and guess what we saw? More NI tech! In fact, DIAdem gets plenty of time in the limelight, as you can plainly see in this teaser video:

Admittedly, the SweetApps crew received a heads up about the latest cameos of NI products on TV. Mike Roberto, an NI field sales engineer who was initially recruited by the show to help set up their systems actually ended up being casted in the pilot. He plays the biomedical engineering expert (wearing red) whose job it is to measure and determine whether or not the accidents would have created the injuries that the defendants claimed (had they not been using stunt pros).

Way to go, Mike! You’re on IMDB now, so that must mean you’re famous, right? I’m wondering if we can create a page on IMDB for NI products, seeing as how they’re now regulars on sci-tech TV...

Be sure to check out Crash Test and stay tuned to shows like Deadliest Warrior and MythBusters; you never know when you might get another glimpse of NI tools.

(And if you do, be sure to let us know!)


Students in the Mechatronics course at Carnegie Mellon shared this sweet app with us:


Meet Michael, a basketball shooting robot controlled by an ARM processor, programmed with LabVIEW. Using feedback from an ultrasonic sensor, Michael adjusts the shooting mechanism to launch the basketball a specified distance. From what I understand, it's relatively simple control. But he's shooting with a 75% career field goal percentage, which is better than any human out there.


Watch the video to see Michael in action, making a basket from DOWN TOWN!!!!!!



The Sweet Apps crew just got wind of this incredible user application from one of our branches. Promethean Power Systems has built a solar-powered refrigeration system to help farmers in off-grid and partially-powered areas of developing countries. Take India, for instance, the world's largest producer of milk.


Remote villages do not have freezers to store milk properly. Add to that the tropical weather India experiences almost year-round and you get a recipe for spoiled milk. Either you cart these barrels of fresh milk to a more urban area, two or three times a day, or a large portion of the produced milk goes to waste. Expensive diesel-powered generators are simply not an option for the majority of milk producers in these rural areas.


Promethan Power Systems has tackled this challenge, using LabVIEW and CompactRIO to create a refridgeration system that harnesses solar power to store and preserve milk.


And since the solution uses NI technologies, we got a special, insider look at their cutting edge solution. Take a look:



Congratulations to engineers and scientists at Promethean, who recently won a GE Ecomagination award for their innovative application. This new, cost-effective solution will not only help emerging markets in developing countires, it will deliver enormous social and environmental benefits as well. Thank you for engineering a better world around us.


For anyone wanting to learn more about they can harness solar energy to create energy-efficient solutions like Promethan Power Systems, check out


Another cameo for NI on MythBusters

Posted by eek Mar 31, 2010

slushie collider.jpg


Thanks to the heads up from ChristianL, we made sure to watch the latest episode of MythBusters, where Adam and Jamie test the urban myth of the Soda Cup Killer: can a styrofoam cup filled with various beverages (soda, slushie, or ice) shatter a windshield and inflict harm on an unsuspecting driver if thrown head-on from a speeding car?


How might someone test this scenario without having to fully re-enact the entire scene in real-life? How about a slushie-super-collider?


The team blasted the cups of various contents, moving at super speeds through a make-shift cannon at a piezo-electric load cell, and recorded the high-speed impact data with none other than the NI USB-9234.


With all of this usage of NI tools by the MythBusters team, Systems Engineer David Harding is becoming a regular at their lab. How cool is that?!?


I imagine we'll be seeing more cameos of NI tools in future episodes, so help us keep an eye out.


Watch a clip from the episode where Jamie explains the super-collider setup, inluding a specific shout out to National Instruments and their computer dude, David:


Yet another result of some eagle-eye LabVIEW spotting. This one comes from @wesrey who caught a glimpse of some LabVIEW front panels in Episode 4 of Google’s short-film series documenting the creation of its Nexus Phone.


Scroll to 1:58 and you can see the LabVIEW Run button toolbar.




The entire video is produced really well and guides you through the assembly and test processes of sophisticated electronics. LabVIEW makes its cameo as part of the “high-precision equipment used for testing during mass production” segment.

Some of the other camera shots of the production facility look strikingly similar to NI’s production facility here in Austin. We’re proud to say NI uses TestStand and LabVIEW to test its own hardware products too.


CompactRIO goes to Hollywood!

Posted by eek Jan 4, 2010
On November 25, 2009, NI CompactRIO and DIAdem software made cameo appearances on one of the most popular scientific television shows of all time, MythBusters. When the Sweet Apps crew found out about the product sighting, we had to check it out for ourselves.


In episode 133, Adam and Jamie addressed a myth that during a rooftop chase, jumping into a dumpster will ensure survival and allow successful escape. To test a best-case scenario, they dropped Buster (their faithful, trusty crash test dummy) into a dumpster filled with pieces of foam rubber. A CompactRIO lodged inside Buster's chest cavity performed extreme, high-speed data logging as the dummy was dropped from a height of 20 feet, recording data from accelerometers throughout the fall. (I'll note that CompactRIO has survived more extreme situations than that: check it out.)


Once they pulled Buster out of the dumpster, DIAdem went to work, crunching the logged data and providing visual representation of the recorded signals from the accelerometers. It was determined that Buster's deceleration into the foam-filled dumpster peaked at 9.9 G's, proving it safe for Adam to try it out firsthand. Despite the result, the MythBusters crew suggested it would be unlikely to find such an ideal dumpster in real life, thus declaring the myth PLAUSIBLE.


Back at SweetApps headquarters, we're as proud as stagemoms to see NI products make it onto the big screen. We've gone so far as to provide time stamps of when you can see the CompactRIO and DIAdem screenshots throughout the episode:


28:05 - CompactRIO, up-close and personal, inside Buster's red jacket (looks like they used a 9014 controller with some 9234 high-accuracy DAQ modules)


28:54 - DIAdem displays the logged data throughout Buster's fall


30:09 -NI Systems Engineer David Harding helps the MythBuster's crew retrieve their data


CompactRIO and DIAdem get plenty more screen time throughout the episode (watch here). These are simply the frames we had made into 2×3" photos to pass out and keep in our wallets.


Previously, NI products have been sighted on Late Night with Conan O'Brien as well as Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior. Now we can add MythBusters to the list. I wonder what TV show well see CompactRIO on next?


Here on the Sweet Apps Blog, we love to hear about the successes of our LabVIEW users. Even better, we love to hear about when our LabVIEW users have won awards, prizes, trophies and the like for their cutting-edge solutions.


One of our Academic Field Engineers, Andy Watchorn, forwarded us some breaking news regarding the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and their entry in the 2009 Solar Decathlon, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Twenty teams of college and university students competed to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The competition focus is on utilizing renewable energy as much as possible, and using it efficiently.


Our friends at University of Illinois ended up taking second place overall! Woo-hoo! John Simon gives us a virtual tour of their award-winning, Gable Home design:



I had the opportunity to sit down with Jon Ehlmann, who designed the Gable Home’s custom, energy-efficient, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, one of the key differentiators that made their entry so successful. He makes some very interesting points about why a custom, flexible HVAC makes the Gable Home’s automation system “future proof.”


What is your technical background and how were you involved in the Gable Home project?

I am an electrical engineering graduate student with an emphasis in power electronics.  I did all of the coding of the HVAC, and worked closely with 2 Mech-Es to figure out the electrical portion of the HVAC system and control strategy.

Why did you choose LabVIEW to control the HVAC?

I chose to use LabVIEW to develop the Gable Home’s Automation system for many reasons. First, I looked at a number of turn-key solutions on the market for home automation and noticed they fell short in at least 1 area, and were very expensive.  Some couldn’t monitor power. Some were hard to install.  This is why I chose to do a custom system.

I chose LabVIEW mainly because it is very easy to integrate different hardware.  In my case I had to integrate data acquisition (DAQ) for power monitoring, DAQ for HVAC control, and a power line modem to interface with Insteon smart switches and outlets.  I also felt the ability to customize the software to nearly any hardware is especially important with talk of adoption of a smart power grid and smart appliances.  By having a custom solution, our house is more “future-proof”

I had to write a custom serial driver for the Insteon PowerLinc Modem (PLM).  The NI VISA drivers were very helpful in interfacing with the PLM.  LabVIEW’s remote front panels made remote monitoring of the house very straightforward to implement.  I also chose LabVIEW because of its graphical programming environment.  This environment is fantastic for rapidly developing software.

How long did it take you to build?

Three very busy months.  I was given the project in the summer because our original controls group graduated and hadn’t really gotten anything done beside very conceptual work.  In fact, when I contacted the Insteon rep he said had been working with Cornell’s team for over a year and had doubts whether I would be able to control the lights by competition.   Not only did I control the lights, I also controlled the HVAC and monitored power.  LabVIEW’s graphical programming language really helped with the rapid development of this system.

What did you appreciate most about NI tools?

LabVIEW’’s graphical programming language made programming easy, and the DAQmx drivers made measurement and control easy.

Thanks for sharing Jon, and congratulations on your award-winning design.


For more information, check out their team website:


Now, how do I make a reservation to stay at this sweet crib?


This Sweet App is the first submitted by one of our readers! (one of our many many readers... ok, so like five readers).




Remember this button on our blog homepage?


Well, Christopher Farmer from CPE Systems, wrote me and Morgan (Morgan and me? Morgan and I? grammar geeks, help me out here!) to tell us about his Sweet App he's been working on.


Apparently, our Aussie friends from down under have been collaborating with BT Imaging (BTi) to provide a photoluminescence imaging system in order to improve the way we manufacture solar cells, helping to detect faults and imperfections in solar cell materials. Admittedly, I had to google "photoluminescence" in order to really understand what is going on. Here's what I could gather:


Photoluminescence, or PL since engineers love abbreviations and acronyms, is a process where you shoot a bunch of photons at something and it bounces back a bunch of photons, allowing you to create an image from what bounced back. Essentially, it's like the flash on your disposable camera; you shine light on something and then you can see an image; only this is at the quantum level. And the flash of photons occurs within nanoseconds.


So BTi built a machine that can see the tiny tiny imperfections on solar cell materials by using PL imaging and contacted CPE when they wanted to scale their systems to be deployed to solar cell manufacturers around the world (GO GREEN!). Here's where things get extra sweet:


The UI designed by Chris and his CPE colleagues is incredibly seamless and sexy; sexy in a way that the UI Interest Group would definitely appreciate. Chris described the front panel architecture for us:

"A major requirement was the ability to make child windows, so the user can open several image and data viewers that are all anchored to the main user interface. To achieve this, MultipleDocument Interface (MDI) capability was incorporated via windows API calls. [BTi] also required a black schema that was not dependant on the windows schema, as the look of the software needed to be preserved regardless of where it was installed. This was achieved by designing custom black frames that could be spawned containing any VI in a sub panel. Transparency was also utilized to implement sliding panels and other interface features."

So here's what I meant by sexy UI:


(There's all kinds of crazy-cool-funkiness going on in that screenshot)


I should mention that CPE engineers used LabVIEW for their project saying it "provided the capability to easily interface to the range of hardware present in the system such as pneumatics, laser, SMU, illuminator, photodiode, Sinton bridge, and camera." That's a lot of data to display from sensors; no wonder the front panel is so sexy (yes, I've said sexy five times now in one blog post; that's a Sweet Apps record! Does that make this blog post sexier than the one Morgan wrote about bras?).


Christopher also informed us that he and his fellow Aussies just won an award at the Pace Zenith Awards 2009 in Australia, for the Power and Energy Management category. Congratulations, mate! Pour the champagne and queue the music:




This latest installment of Sweet Apps comes from Clemson University. We first got wind of this from a story on (and was subsequently covered by Engadget).


It's what would happen if Shaquille O'Neil and Sir Isaac Newton friended each other on Facebook:


A Clemson-student chapter of the Structural Engineers Association, led by professor Scott Schiff, collaborated with the Clemson Athletic Department to create measurement and analysis system that rates the intensity of slam dunks made by the Clemson basketball team. The system essentially takes measurements from accelerometers placed on the basketball hoop and turns that data into a slam dunk meter that is then displayed on the Clemson jumbotron. Talk about structural health monitoring, huh?


The slam dunks measured by the system peak around 30 g's. Compare that to the typical 5 g's you'd experience on a roller coaster and you get an idea of the magnitude of force these superstars dunk with.


Oh yeah, and the students used LabVIEW to acquire and display the data. Check out the video and you'll see the screen shots of their front panel. Booya!









Side note: In writing this blog post, I was compelled to include the following picture, as it reminded me of Morgan's post on talking elephants.

Who knew they could shoot some hoops as well? And just think of the intensity of Dumbo's slam dunk. Through the roof!


Making a Difference in Kenya

Posted by eek May 4, 2009

Morgan's Post on remote monitoring of the medical clinic construction in Malawi reminded me of another, very cool way LabVIEW users are making the world a better place.


This one does not need much explanation. Kudos to the students at Penn State putting together such a powerful video for a such a powerful solution.



For more information on networked health solutions in developing countries, visit

1 2 Previous Next

Filter Blog