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Editor’s Pick: Open System Design Platform for Embedded Control and Monitoring

By Anthony J. Lockwood

Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:

I’m attending NI Week, the annual National Instruments users conference in Austin, TX, where it has chilled down to a crisp 97° (36°C) at 9:15 p.m. Now, normally, you’d expect that, since it’s NI Week, I’d be writing about the newest version of LabVIEW. And, indeed, LabVIEW 2013 was announced and there’s plenty to say about it. But I’m not going there right now. See, today’s Pick of the Week is about the NI cRIO-9068 software-designed controller for embedded control and monitoring. It was announced yesterday. It’s cool.

The cRIO-9068 is a fully redesigned controller that maintains full backward compatibility with NI LabVIEW and I/O compatibility with the CompactRIO platform, so “redesign” does not mean you have to redo your past work. Interesting. But the big thing is that cRIO-9068 features the Xilinx Zynq-7020 All Programmable system on a chip (SoC). The Zynq combines a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and Xilinx 7 Series FPGA fabric on a single chip. And, finally, the cRIO-9068 controller also introduces the NI Linux Real-Time operating system. Yes, Linux and its community of possibilities.

So, what’s in it for you? Performance. NI says the cRIO-9068 performs up to four times faster than previous generations of the CompactRIO platform. Some benchmarks linked at the end of today’s write-up will give you more details on that. Suffice to say, I was talking to this guy who was a beta user. He does big control and monitoring jobs for oil companies. Seems they don’t like water shooting out of their wells, so they sample a lot to keep an eye on things. He said they blew the competition out of the water with this unit’s ability to handle thousands of data points in a fraction of the time anyone had been able to do before. He was, frankly, evangelical about the cRIO-9068.

Part of the reason for the performance boost rests with the multicore CPU and the Zynq FPGA (field programmable gate array). And part of it rests with NI LabVIEW Real-Time graphical system design software using the NI Linux Real-Time OS on the ARM Cortex-A9. What you have here is speed and the stuff to exploit it: clock frequency of 667 MHz, 85k logic cells, 220 digital signal-processing slices, network stack, a process scheduler, and an advanced file system with automatic data compression. This is a combination that gives you the throughput for increased rates of data streaming for logging applications while reducing latency for closed loop control. Again, check those benchmarks.

The cRIO-9068 has 512MB of memory, 1GB flash storage, eight slots of modular I/O, dual gigabit Ethernet ports, and other ports for connecting things like industrial devices. It operates in the -40°C to 70°C temperature range and is otherwise ruggedized for high-volume and OEM applications in harsh environments.

And it has a lot more. But what you’re really talking about here is a high-performance instrument in waiting. See, that “software-designed” part of the cRIO-9068’s full name means that you define what the instrument does. It’s ready with all that power and capacity. That is, you do not have to custom design your high-performance embedded control and monitoring hardware. The hardware that is the cRIO-9068 is high-performance and fully programmable with LabVIEW, so you do not need swarms of programmers, just the domain experts.

This is neat stuff. It’s really a new ballgame for NI and its users. You can learn more about the NI cRIO-9068 controller from the link over there and the links at the end of the write-up. And, yes, DE won’t leave you hanging: There’s a link to what’s new in LabVIEW 2013 as well.

Thanks, Pal. — Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering

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About Anthony J. Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood is Digital Engineering's Editor-at-Large. Contact him via de-editors@digitaleng.news.