NI Blog

Community Browser
cancel
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 

Boldly Going Where No GUI Has Gone Before

Laura Arnold
NI Employee (retired)

Captain Kirk had it right when he called space the final frontier! Whether it’s what constitutes dark matter or what causes pulsars to rotate, there are many questions left to answer. Luckily, the High-Energy Density Plasma Physics (HEDP) group at UCLA is currently working to solve some of these mysteries. They’re using a high-energy laser system to create the conditions needed for a phenomenon called astrophysical collisionless shocks. Basically, a dense plasma interacts with a highly magnetized plasma to produce shocks that have been found in things like supernova explosions and meteorite impacts.

Their high-energy laser system consists of three lasers named Phoenix, Raptor, and Peening. To give you an idea of how powerful these lasers are, the Raptor laser can hit a 0.1 mm target with a terawatt of power, which is roughly equivalent to the power produced by 1000 large nuclear power plants. Put another way, that’s comparable to focusing all of the sunlight hitting the Earth's surface onto your hand. (We don’t recommend doing that, for the record.)

Because the requirements needed to run these three lasers safely is beyond manual human control, the group turned to LabVIEW to design a software package that could control the laser system. They’re also using CompactRIO to monitor the lasers using cameras, scopes, and other diagnostics; control critical components like beam shutters, motors, and vacuum lines; and maintain the interlock safety system.

And if controlling insanely powerful lasers wasn’t cool enough, check out the user interface that one of the HEDP group members built from scratch for their system:

lcars1.jpg

lcars2.jpg

Look familiar? They modeled their GUI after LCARS, the computer operating system used in Star Trek. It took NPSC Graduate Fellow Derek Schaeffer about a month to build the basic graphical components needed to create LCARS frames, fonts, sounds (yes, there are sounds too), and standard controls. He completed most of the graphical designs using Microsoft PowerPoint and imported them as pictures into LabVIEW custom controls.

>> Learn how G Systems used LabVIEW and CompactRIO to build three test systems for a space exploration ...

Comments
Alan_L
Member

Please tell me that these pioneering engineers & scientists have made this GUI framework available for use by others in the LabVIEW community!

pflores
NI Employee (retired)

Very SWEET! Congratulations, Derek. See you at NIWeek 2012!

---

Peter Flores
Applications Engineer
G-Money
NI Employee (retired)

Researching space explosions AND your LabVIEW application has a functional Star Trek GUI? This is now my favorite application of all time. Space nerds unite!

Thoric
Trusted Enthusiast

Vrey impressive GUI, it would be great to see how this was implemented

Thoric (CLA, CLED, CTD and LabVIEW Champion)


HEDP
Member

I'd be happy to detail ant specific areas you have in mind.

G-Money
NI Employee (retired)

HEDP, How long did it take you to create the UI framework for this application? What were some of your considerations that drove your choice of framework?

HEDP
Member

The initial framework took a month or two to put together (and is still an ongoing project, 2 years later) and mostly consisted of studying LCARS design elements and interpreting them for LabVIEW.  The easiest and most recognizable elements are the monotone frames, which are collections of 7 basic shapes (curves, straights, and caps) in multiple 3-tone color schemes.  These were drawn up in PowerPoint (I have limited artistic ability) in some standard way, exported as PNGs, and imported as the picture component of custom buttons.  Sound elements (beeps and some commands) were also relatively easy to implement.

LCARS is a fun design, but it's also very constraining.  To try and pull off something LCARS-like, you really need to completely immerse in it, so it was necessary to create a custom "desktop" that sat on top of the operating system.  Individual programs are then embedded in this desktop.  As a result, black backgrounds, immobile borderless windows, and subpanels are the norm, and there's a lot of work programatically moving frame pieces and VIs around to look seemless.

The most difficult part of the UI project was reinterpreting many of LabVIEW's standard UI elements, like text and number inputs, dialog boxes, menus, graphs, etc.  Dialog boxes are made from scratch and replicate the same functionality, while augmenting others (like cascading blinking lights for warning and error dialogs).  A lot of transparent pictures had to be imported into LabVIEW controls so that they blended in.  Standard menus wouldn't work, so a graphical, hierarchical matrix display using subpanels was implemented.  Of course, since this is LCARS, the UI had to be touch-compatible (we have a few touchscreens in the lab), which, since LabVIEW doesn't yet natively support touch input, required its own custom system and influenced the design and layout of programs.

LabBEAN
Active Participant

Very nice.  What powers the lasers and what is the time period of the terawatt?


Certified LabVIEW Architect
TestScript: Free Python/LabVIEW Connector

One global to rule them all,
One double-click to find them,
One interface to bring them all
and in the panel bind them.
ruelvt
Member

Nice, but... I wonder what the funding agency thought when they realized they paid grad students to develop a fancy GUI.  The laser and software better have worked flawlessly in order to justify devoting resources to this.

LabBEAN
Active Participant

Grad students get paid?


Certified LabVIEW Architect
TestScript: Free Python/LabVIEW Connector

One global to rule them all,
One double-click to find them,
One interface to bring them all
and in the panel bind them.
wildcatherder
Active Participant

Seriously, if all the time that was spent on cute interfaces was laid end-to-end, there would be no time left over for inappropriate metaphors.

carlox
Member

I wonder if this interface adds usability, reliability or some other "*ability" to the whole system.

Carlo A.
Megaris




ssscott
Member

What version of labview was used? Nice job btw!

HEDP
Member

All three lasers are powered by banks of capacitors, from 50 kJ of stored energy for Phoenix to 500 kJ for Raptor (for comparison, an external defibrillator stores ~100 J).  The laser pulse widths range from 5 - 100 nanoseconds.

HEDP
Member

This project has spanned that last 4 versions of LabVIEW (8.5 forward) and is currently completely updated to LabVIEW 2011.

HEDP
Member

While there was a non-trivial amount of time devoted to creating the interface, the vast majority of time and resources went into creating a functional laser control and diagnostics system.

BexarAP
Member

I've never posted about anything before but I had to comment on this! Huge Kudos!,  I new others would take the time and use it for acq. and cntl. I did it

for fun back in 2007 for HAM radio use. wish I had the jumbo lasers that definitely would add a layer of excitement! I have a couple of screen shots but the code crashed with the hard drive.

This plotted overhead satellite and planetary info. it also did PSK31communications (kinda like Teletype), it was a lot of fun. Labview was perfect for what I wanted. all the code I used was ActiveX info plotted using Labview.

as a side note: Googles answer to siri is called majel (Nurse Chapel - old Star Trek) after Majel Rodenberry and I read the first version required that you say " Computer" to access it.

also there are a number of people who do art based on the Computer screen layouts the screens are called Okudagrams after the artist that

created them for ST. Thanks for sharing and also the opportunity to post my thoughts.

stROMP1.jpgstROMP3.jpg

HEDP
Member

The LCARS component of the interface mostly adds an element of whimsy, though having a design theme helps unify many disparate systems.  The actual application was very much designed with *abilities in mind, chiefly reliability (cRIOs), flexibility (modular programs), and expandability (can run any program or instrument anywhere in the lab).

carlox
Member

I was really sure about the very high quality of the application.

My question concerned the interface only.

While I'm a science fiction fan, too (i.e. my test system will soon "play" Imperial March from Star Wars by an high frequency mechanical actuator ), I was afraid that an user interface designed only to impress an audience and - likely - without any other specification could be as much functional and intuitive as a more traditional one.

BTW it's a pity that Labwindows/CVI hasn't as much flexibilty as LV in custom user interface design.

Carlo A.
Megaris




valib
Member

when clicking a ppicture in the post... a small resolution picture opens. you should really solve this, it is annoying!

Thoric
Trusted Enthusiast

valib - if the original pictures are low resolution then the popup will be pretty much the same. I think there is nothing to 'resolve' here. try clicking Bexar's images in his comment to see that this page is working as it should.

Thoric (CLA, CLED, CTD and LabVIEW Champion)


Kimmy
Member

that is the coolest thing I ever heard of

Laura Arnold
NI Employee (retired)

Hey valib, I've attached five larger pictures of the system/interface to this post. Enjoy!

thisisnotadream
Member

I've done a few applications where I designed the interface to mimick LCARS.  Helps to break up the monotony.  It doesn't take much more than basic LabVIEW experience and a good graphics tool to easily import the graphics.  What it DOES do for your application is force you to make wise use of space and organization.  A cluttered LCARS screen is impossible to use and looks worse than a normal cluttered screen.  I consider my LCARS interfaces to be the best GUIs I've done

HEDP
Member

I've attached a demo video of the interface operating on multiple screens.  As you can see from the other posted pictures, we run the application from all over the lab in several formats (single screen, multi-screen, and touchscreen).