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NIWeek 2018 Highlights

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If NIWeek were a TV, this year, it went from HD to 4K. The increased resolution was used to highlight impactful business results from industry-leading executives at NXP, Mazda, and Cummins to name a few. Throughout the week, a tangibly different NIWeek look-and-feel helped attendees explore not just the technology innovations that are driving changes across semiconductor, transportation, aerospace, and academic research but also how those innovations are complicating the challenge of test. Although NIWeek is generally my favorite week of any year, the 2018 installment felt special—and that’s coming from the guy who had the honor of announcing LabVIEW NXG alongside @ladylabview in 2017.


Here are my top three NIWeek 2018 highlights.


A Focus on Business Results


The opening keynote of NIWeek is the platform where the most innovative product launches, customer stories, and technology demonstrations are showcased. In years past, we’ve heard innovative stories such as hot dogs destroying a saw blade to save a human hand and medical devices drastically simplifying cataract surgery. The focus this year, however, was on quantifiable business results.


Three such examples stand out to me.


Mr. Tomohiko Adachi, from Mazda, shared an incredible example of using the NI platform to build mechatronic automation into their electronic component validation process. They reduced their test time and cut man-hours by 90 percent.



NIWeek_2018_057 - Mazda Keynote.jpg“By leveraging the NI test platform and ecosystem, we successfully developed not only HILS but also robots, an image processing system, a speech synthesis system, a noise simulator, and a GPS simulator to build an integrated automated test system for electronic components. Man-hours related to the accompanying manual operations and result judgement were both reduced by 90 percent, resulting in hundreds of millions of yen saved per year.” —Tomohiko Adachi, Senior Principal Engineer, Mazda

Mr. Zhiqiang Zhang, from the China National Engineering Laboratory for High-Speed Trains (CRRC), talked about using the NI platform to monitor high-speed trains for predictive maintenance. By processing data at the edge, they reduced the amount of data they stream from hundreds of megabytes to a few kilobytes.


Amy Sinkhorn, from Cummins, shared their use case of designing a hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) validation system for their combustion engine powertrain. Complicating their design is the fact that they have a high degree of variability across designs, with over 60 unique designs to validate. Amy’s team worked with an NI Alliance Partner to design a reference architecture that provides a standardized set of content for 80 percent of their tester, cutting their development time by over 50 percent.


Sometimes remarkable business impacts are even more dramatic than onstage product demonstrations. I found the conscious decision to elevate the business impact of our platform over technical product details to be a good one.


Thought Leadership on Our Platform



Perhaps the most interesting highlight of the week came from a panel of experts in the field of autonomous vehicles. Unlike the typical high-level exploration of emerging trends, this panel delved into the meaty societal impact of autonomous driving.


Wednesday Auto Panel 2.jpg(Left to right) Moderator Eric Starkloff (National Instruments) questions panelists Richard Aspinall (manager of powertrain manufacturing at Faraday Future), Dr. Kamal Khouri (vice president of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, NXP) and Bryant Walker Smith (assistant professor at the School of Law, University of South Carolina) during an NIWeek 2018 keynote panel on autonomous vehicles.These funny and engaging presenters represented deeply knowledgeable views on the importance of ensuring security and safety, the role of government regulations, and the concept of “trust” that we put in automotive companies building cars, along with the role of the electric vehicle (EV) powertrain in the development of autonomous driving. Two of the panel themes were most interesting to me:


The Vehicle Manufacturer’s Responsibility

Bryant Walker Smith, who coauthored the SAE levels of autonomy specification, spoke about the responsibility of vehicle manufacturers to share their test plans, safety strategies, and even insights into the areas that their algorithms do or don’t work well. Smith highlighted our responsibility as consumers to “ask if the companies developing the technologies are worthy of our trust.” Don’t ask if the car is safe, advised Smith, the engineer-turned-lawyer, because cars will always be as safe as the last accident. “Trustworthiness is everything,” he said. His advice to the companies developing these technologies: be trustworthy, have credibility. Share your safety philosophies—explain why you think the product is reasonably safe. Keep promises. Share successes and failures. In the event of failures, make things right.


Probabilistic Versus Deterministic Decision-Making

Dr. Kamal Khouri highlighted one of the unique challenges in testing autonomous vehicles—there isn’t a “right answer” to compare the outcome to. Describing these challenges as probabilistic, as opposed to deterministic, the fine line between morality and accuracy quickly rises to the top. This conversation bleeds right into the lack of standards or regulations that define the behavior. Richard Aspinall added, “I can say, from the manufacturer’s point of view, we are desperate to have those standards. That guidance really helps us to focus in on what we are trying to do to sell that car and be confident as best as we can.”

If you missed this conversation, you can check it out on YouTube.


Future Faster, But Don’t Forget to Take Stock


Throughout the week, the theme of “Future Faster” was at the forefront of discussion. In Eric Starkloff’s opening talk, he spoke about what inspired him to get into engineering in the first place. Eric was inspired by the incredible advances in technology that happened when he was a kid—the first personal computers, ARPANET, and the Space Shuttle.


Although this was just a small portion of his opening talk, essentially a bridge to connect two topics, it ballooned throughout the week. Not only was Eric inundated with comments, stories, and anecdotes from the thousands of attendees, but he also ended up asking the question to the autonomous driving panelists and to some of the customers from the morning. Mr. Adachi had the most charming response—Knight Rider. More specifically, Kit from Knight Rider. The coolest part of that story is that Mr. Adachi’s role at Mazda is to oversee the development of their EV and autonomous vehicle divisions, which kinda rhymes with Knight Rider.


If you missed out on NIWeek this past year, or just want to review what you experienced, you can watch the keynotes online. You can also register for NIWeek 2019 now.



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