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Will you have industrial software under your Christmas tree?

01 October, 2006

Will you have industrial software under your Christmas tree?

Many children will spend this Christmas getting to grips with industrial control software as they try to program the latest robotic kits from Lego. The company`s new Mindstorms NXT kit will allow children (and their parents) to assemble a variety of mechanical creatures and then to program them using a customised version of National Instruments` LabView control and monitoring software.

The £180 kit includes a 32-bit microprocessor, three interactive servo motors with encoders, an ultrasonic sensor that allows robots to "see" by responding to movements, a sound sensor that allows them to react to commands, a touch sensor that allows them to "feel", and a light sensor that reacts to colour and intensity. The 571 elements in each kit can be combined to create 18 different types of robot, including humanoids, animals and vehicles.

The robots are programmed from a PC or Mac using a drag-and-drop graphical interface. The programs are downloaded to the robot controller via a USB link, or wirelessly using Bluetooth — which could also allow the robots to be controlled from a mobile phone or handheld computer.

NI has also developed a toolkit that will allow users to program the robots using LabView "virtual instruments", and to interact with them to change their behaviour while a program is running. In addition, users will be able to view variables via a standard LabView front panel.

This kit will also allow third-party developers to create add-on software blocks. One such developer, HiTechnic Products, has already produced a digital compass sensor and is creating program and control blocks for this and other sensors.

NI, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has recently released a new version of LabView

As part of the publicity campaign for the new robots, Lego commissioned a survey in the US which revealed that although most children were confident that that they could build and program robots, only 20% of adults shared this confidence. For boys, the most popular use for a robot would be to protect them from intruders. The person who they thought who could benefit most from the help of a robot was their mother. Just 10% thought that President Bush could use a robot`s help.

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