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Thoughts on NI Week...

A lot happened at NI Week. A *lot*. But before blogging about all the amazing NXT-G, LabVIEW, and LEGO stuff that went on, I wanted to ramble just a bit on the context. If you want the quick-scoop on pictures, I have them up now on Brickshelf.

NI Week is a professional developers conference: Upstairs are folks discussing detailed high-power presentations on how to very rapidly control complex, high-precision equipment, or stream Gb of data into a hard drive per second, or how to use LabVIEW for real-time control of a complex factory, new tricks with FGPAs, etc. Below on the expo floor are hundreds of booths for vendors, selling extremely high-powered (and high-price-tag!) interfaces, vision system, mechanical solutions, sensors, etc. Linking all this together is an underlying framework of LaVIEW for control and feedback.

So why were we invited in to play with a child’s toy, and even giving presentations? One of the things NI has made very clear over the last two years is that they intend to support MINDSTORMS through NXT-G and LabVIEW, and it’s wonderful watching that continue. Not only was the product still prominent in things like the keynote presentations, but it seem very clear that NI looks at this as a way to introduce young users to graphical languages, and as a step towards LabVIEW… for which I think NXT-G is very well suited. Continuing support from NI is something that isn’t just a pipe dream – it really seems to be happening and even growing, as us being invited to NI Week (and the attendance at our session) shows.

On a more personal note, being primarily a stay-at-home Dad who plays with LEGO, NI Week can be as overwhelming as attending a grand opening of a Hollywood movie. I fear there were times I was just standing around somewhat slack-jawed at the things around us: robots far more powerful & robustly built, and being wined and dined at places like the Oasis outside of Austin, etc. But let me get a few important notes down now, while they are semi-fresh on my mind:

• If you ignore your email for four days in the MCP, you will easily acquire more than 300 messages (that’s not spam – it’s just the MCP is really that active).

• A common LEGO practice is business meetings that start after dinner, and run until 1:30 AM when the restaurant/bar kicks you out by turning off the lights... And after such a late-night meeting, your brain is still far to wound up with new ideas and horizons for you to even try getting to sleep until after 2:30 AM

• There are “sheet metal” robots that can solve Rubik’s cube faster than Dave’s… but only due to computational power (& expense). Dave’s mechanism was actually significantly better in accuracy and applied resources than what I saw at NI Week in this case.

• Booths on the expo floor will give away lots of electronic “swag”… which LEGO folks will gladly snarf up, and start reverse-engineering into their ‘bots.

• Steve Hassenplug will continue to try to win a contest long after it is over and everyone else has left… and he will do it, too.

• There is no one too mature to not enjoy shooting Zamor spheres across a table at 4 balls per second. Nobody. Not one. And getting it on video is even better.

• Four special-purpose LEGO robots playing soccer are no match for three all-terrain rock-crusher style remote controlled LEGO robots. Some disassembled required (or at least enjoyed).

• The number of kids brought into the expo floor by their parents (I assume to specifically see the LEGO booth), and the number of adults that went right back to being kids the moment they encountered the LEGO booth, was inspiring.

• At this level keynotes presentations are better designed than some full theater productions. This does not mean they are immune to simple problems. And personal presentations are even less immune.

• Drink and eat at any opportunity… there may not be another one for a while :-).

• And the number one point? Remember, It’s Only A Toy. Really. :-).

Brian Davis

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