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Sweet Apps

10 Posts tagged with the diy tag

When NI systems engineer Ben Black wants his favorite beer, he doesn’t run to the convenience store. He sets up his homebrewing equipment, adds ingredients like bourbon and oak chips, and creates his own porter in his backyard. But when Ben and his wife found out they were having a baby, he knew he wouldn’t have time to babysit his brewing system anymore. Instead of giving up on his hobby, he put LabVIEW and some recycled NI hardware to work to automate his system.


NI Single-Board RIO and a variety of C Series modules provided a flexible platform to monitor and control the temperature and heating elements, while LabVIEW tied the hardware together and powered the system. By adding LabVIEW Web services, Ben could even monitor his brew’s temperature from the couch.

The automated homebrewing system went public at NIWeek 2012 as one of the most popular demos on the expo floor. Watch the video below to see Ben explain how it all works.


>> Read the full interview with Ben on his homebrew system.
>> Learn more about LabVIEW Web services.


Recently, a pitcher at a Detroit Tigers baseball game threw everyone a curve. Cy-ber Young, an automated robot built by students from regional FIRST programs, is the only robot in history to have thrown out the first pitch at a Major League game.




Cy-ber Young has been under construction since late June and was finished just in time for the game on August 22. The shopping-cart-sized robot uses a scuba tank as its source of power, sending out balls  at over 100 mph. Colm Boren, an engineer and mentor for the Detroit FIRST robotics organization, described the robot as “basically a big pea shooter.”


The 20 students who built the bot—from Novi High, Troy High, Bishop Foley High, Waterford Kettering High, and high schools in Monroe Count—are all active participants in FIRST. They dedicated most of their summer to Cy-ber Young, who thoroughly wowed the crowd.


"FIRST competitions are as intense and heart-stopping as any varsity sport. That is why the opportunity to debut their creation on a major league field is such a thrill to this group," said Linda Boran, a Novi High robotics team mentor.




The team approached Eli Bayless, director of promotions for the Tigers, with the idea of having a robot throw out the first pitch. They were hoping to inspire baseball crowds about the power of robotics and recruit more students for FIRST. If inspiration is what they were looking for, we’d say they hit a homer!


Seeing houses lit up is one of the signs that the holidays are here - some of us may still even have them up to help prolong the holiday cheer. There are some creative minds among us that take holiday décor to another level (read: Andy Coulson’s DIY Christmas suit). Surely, if your lights were as impressive as Lockheed engineer John Klepacz’s display, you would be in no hurry to take them down.

For John, getting lights at the store was not enough. He applied his engineering skills to making his house not just shine – but also dance. Using NI technology, items from eBay, and things lying around his house, he was able to create a beautiful light display that he synchronized to music.



In total, the display is composed of 12,000 lights. He also built the arches and the trees himself. The arches are made using a wiring harness. His “mini mega tree” was built with LEDs and things he had laying around the house – a wooden closet rod, metal fence post, 2x6s from his porch, and muffler clamps. He even built his own extension cords.


John used two NI PCI-DIO-96 cards, a relay driver board, 36 solid state relays, and a program he created in NI LabVIEW to control the lights. Here’s a screenshot of his main control panel:

LV front panel.jpg

Check out his YouTube channel for more light shows and explanatory videos.

It doesn’t end there. This year, John has already planned to add another 36 channels (for a total of 72 channels) and another 3,000 lights. He has already purchased the hardware and some of the lights.

>> Do you or someone you know have a great holiday decoration project? Let us know in the comments!

>> For more DIY projects, join the DIY LabVIEW Crew.


Applications Engineer Ryan Theuer helps NI customers innovate every day.  So when his bride-to-be wanted a photo booth at their July wedding reception, Ryan used the opportunity to create his own solution using NI LabVIEW software. With PBC pipe and a curtain, he built a fully-enclosed, mobile photo booth that not only cost a fraction of a rented one, but also included even more features.


Ryan first wrote the app’s code using LabVIEW, then stripped down and reformatted an old computer to operate only the LabVIEW run-time engine and NI-IMAQdx vision acquisition software. These two programs worked together to acquire and process the images taken in the photo booth. After assembling a 4 ft. by 5 ft. structure; incorporating a photo printer, web camera, and touch screen; and, of course, winning his fiancé’s approval, Ryan was ready to debut the photo booth at their reception.


Here's a screenshot of the program:


Photobooth Screenshot.PNG


Needless to say, it was a big hit! Once inside the photo booth, guests used the touch screen to enter their names and the number of people in their group, then a clock counted down five seconds before taking four consecutive snapshots. After striking their poses, the group could choose between black-and-white or color prints, add their photos to the guestbook, and receive copies by printing them or sending electronic versions to themselves via email or text. The photo booth also features a custom background and cool video message function that allows guests to record a 30-second speech for the bride and groom.





Ryan’s photo booth was such a success that he plans to rent it out for future events. He’s already received his first booking from another NI employee who’s also ready to say “I do”!


Congrats to the newlyweds!


>> Did you have a chance to attend NIWeek? Check out some of the sweetest apps that made it to the expo floor!


Sweet Apps Picture.png

NI engineer Derrick Snyder works on the team that develops NI DIAdem. DIAdem is a measurement and automation software tool that you can use to quickly locate, load, visualize, analyze, and report measurement data collected during data acquisition and/or generated during simulations, no matter how it is stored.


Though DIAdem is typically used for “traditional” instrumentation needs, Derrick found a personal application for the program while taking advantage of the many cool features it has to offer. Derrick is a runner and ran the Austin marathon in 2008 and 2011. Both times he wore a Garmin wristwatch/GPS that gathered data about his run such as his speed, location, and elevation. Though his wristwatch came with software that lets you display the data, he wanted to know more.


In 2010, NI released the new version of DIAdem with GPS mapping that can interface with a GPS sensor and map a route. Without any extra customization, he simply loaded the files from his wristwatch and he came up with these three ways to visualize and analyze his data:


1. Tracking the individual runs - Derrick was able to bring together the data so that he could see his speed, elevation, and location by selecting any one of those data channels in any of the visualizations. He was even able to “watch” his run play back (see video below):



2. Analyzing the speed and elevation - Derrick chose contour plots to visualize his speed and elevation versus position, and was able to see if there was a correlation between the two. He could even identify the locations where he stopped to walk when he saw friends cheering him on!

Austin Marathon 2011 - Speed and Elevation.png


3. Comparing his performance in 2008 and 2011 – By putting the data side by side, he was able to see differences in course, elevation, and speed. He was even able to play back the marathons simultaneously on the same page. This helped him see how he improved and was able to finish 36 minutes faster in 2011.

Austin Marathon - 2008 vs. 2011.png


Derrick initially created this sweet app because he thought it would be a cool way to show what DIAdem can do. Now, he says that it was motivating to see his progress between the two marathons and also useful because he can see where he can improve along the course.


Have you used DIAdem (or any other NI technology) to create a sweet app that enhances your personal life or hobbies? Leave us a comment and tell us about it – maybe we can even feature you on Sweet Apps!


>> To learn more about other people’s cool projects, check out the DIY LabVIEW crew.


I love receiving packages in the mail. Whether it be something I just ordered online or packages to be expected around a birthday or holiday -- the anticipation gets me every time. But what happens when I receive a package that has taken a beating along the way, or even worse, the contents are broken? Major disappointment; that's what happens.


I know I'm not the only one who feels this pain. That's why NI engineers and contributors to the DIY LabVIEW Crew Rick Kuhlman and Jamie Brettle teamed up with Popular Mechanics to find out exactly what a package goes through when shipped across the country.


The plan was to ship the package from New York City, to Santa Monica, California, to NI headquarters in Austin, Texas, and then back to New York City through three major carriers: FedEx, UPS, and USPS, which were completely unaware of the tests.



This was the actual package used in the test along with the datalogger built by NI engineers and Popular Mechanics.


Using a MEMS accelerometer from Analog Devices, the NI LabVIEW Embedded Module for ARM Microcontrollers, and an Energizer battery, the team built a device with the ability to characterize and log the accelerations of shaking, dropping, and handling in a small battery-powered device that could run for at least three days straight. (Rick posted a wonderful tutorial on how they built the system and analyzed the results in the DIY LabVIEW Crew community group.)


After analyzing more than 200,000 samples over the course of three days, results showed that USPS was most careful with the package. The article published in Popular Mechanics shares more details and compares more results on temperature, drops, and position changes for each carrier.


But what's most interesting (or disapponting) is that the package used in the test received more abuse after it was marked as "Fragile" -- and the team noticed this across all three carriers. Busted.


After all that, ABC News brought the results to shoppers on Black Friday with this awesome video and article.


To learn about more fun and useful DIY LabVIEW apps, check out the DIY LabVIEW Crew.


“Hey, I’m Aric, and I like to break things,” said engineer slash stay-at-home dad, Aric Datesman.


Datesman especially likes to break climbing equipment and spends his free time in his basement conducting strength tests on equipment ranging from retired commercial gear to prototypes of mountaineering equipment he designed himself. “Eventually people started sending me climbing equipment to break and it all went downhill from there,” he said.


Climbing equipment has a strength rating assigned by the manufacturer, and Datesman tests for the force required to failure with  his application called “Force Required for Failure Testing of Climbing Equipment.”


To test the strength of the equipment, he uses a homemade pull tester and a USB-6009 DAQ device, outputting +/- 10 V at 6,000 cycles per second, to acquire data. He uses NI LabVIEW SignalExpress for accurate testing results and display. This allows the data to be displayed on a graph so he can view the application of force and save the data for future analysis. Here Datesman can tell if the gear is faulty by the changing slope in the lines.


After recording his data, Datesman will usually post his results to for fellow rock climbers to view.


We’ve got some footage of Datesman at the New River Rendevous Climber’s Festival with his pull tester and some of the commercial and homemade equipment he’s broken:



Learn more about low-cost USB DAQ devices.

Check out these videos that show you how to perform several data acquisition functions with the USB-6009.


From NERF darts to real .22 caliber bullets, engineers are building more and more applications to play with guns.


With 3D video, surround sound, and other emerging technologies, video games are able to more closely emulate reality. Waterloo Labs, which is a group of engineers who build DIY projects, developed an application that brings the world of gaming to a different level. Their sweet app allows you to play a first-person shooter video game with real guns. Using accelerometers connected to an NI USB-4432 dynamic system analyzer, this sweet app locates the position of an object’s impact on a flat surface using triangulation.


How does it work? The computer screen is projected onto a flat surface with the accelerometers arranged in an inverted triangle or square to detect the hits. This means you can throw almost anything at the surface, from live ammunition to rubber bands, and the sensors will simultaneously sample their impact on the screen. The data collected is fed through a LabVIEW program that calculates the location of the hits. The program matches these locations to what is on the computer screen, logging each impact as a mouse click. In the case of Half-Life and similar first-person shooter games, this equates to a shot at a zombie, enemy soldier, etc.


Watch Waterloo Labs engineers demonstrate the application using a Ruger Mark III pistol:



Want to try it yourself? Read the technical details and get the products.


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.


Popcorn Powered by LabVIEW

Posted by jaking Mar 10, 2010


Engineering is about more than just solving the world's energy crisis, maximizing the production of Mac and Cheese, and controlling HVACs of solar-powered houses. It's also about the easier things in life, the simple intricacies and wonders that make us giddy and excited about being engineers.


Check out the world’s first Twitter-powered popcorn machine built by Dave Britt and Justin Goeres (who are examples of FUN engineering and ingenuity at its finest, might I add). Twitter is the gun of the machine, the juice that gets it going.


So, how does it work and how does this have anything to do with NI products?


Here's the gist: the dudes developed a LabVIEW program that monitors Twitter for #popcorn, i.e. people who include the hashtag in their Tweets. When #popcorn Tweets are found, the LabVIEW program initiates a LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robot to dispense popcorn kernels into the fancy popper. When more people Tweet #popcorn, the more popcorn we get. Essentially, Dave and Justin have built a machine that can feed the world.


So what was this inspiration for such a unique invention? Aside from trying to win a video contest for the popcorn vendor, I think they just wanted to have fun. And that, I imagine, is one of the many joys of being an engineer: creating things that matter, and/or creating things that may not matter so much but can help you win a stellar video contest. 


Check out the video, which displays an "embarrassingly ghetto," according to Dave and Justin, demonstration of how the system works, along with some catchy background music. You can also read a full write-up of how they built the system using free code from the JKI State Machine,  the EasyXML Toolkit for LabVIEW, and more.



Now, the final thing and the most pressing question in my mind is what did these guys win for their sweet app entered into the video contest?


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