5 Ways to Add Mobile Technology to Your Measurement and Control System
In 2011, Steve Jobs declared the beginning of a “post-PC era.” The same year, global sales of smartphones and tablets outnumbered traditional laptop and desktop computers. While PCs obviously aren’t obsolete, it’s clear that mobile technology is fundamentally changing the way we access and use information.
Initially created for consumers, smartphones and tablets have been adapted in a variety of industries such as health care for remotely accessing patient data and education as interactive textbooks. Similarly, mobile technology is revolutionizing data acquisition. Engineers and scientists are taking measurements in more places by combining mobile technology with data acquisition hardware to create extremely portable and interconnected measurement systems. Additionally, mobile technology offers rich user interfaces for monitoring measurement systems from virtually anywhere in the world.
Taking advantage of this technology doesn’t have to be difficult. You can choose from a variety of tools available to help you utilize NI LabVIEW software and NI hardware with mobile technology.
Mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, are increasingly being adopted for measurement and control applications. Their evolving functionality and use cases include visualization capabilities and connectivity to wireless hardware devices.
1. » Data Dashboard for LabVIEW
Thin clients are based on the client-server architecture where a lightweight, thin client application depends heavily on its server to perform most of its computational logic. They are often used with measurement and control systems to provide a custom user interface to multiple users for remote monitoring and administration.
Not everyone has the expertise to build custom thin client applications. Data Dashboard for LabVIEW is a thin client app for the iPad that you can use to create a custom, portable view of your LabVIEW applications with no programming required. You can drag and drop controls and indicators such as charts, gauges, LEDs, sliders, and buttons that read or write values via LabVIEW web services or network-published shared variables. You can customize the appearance with built-in themes and share dashboards via email or the NI Technical Data Cloud. In addition to support for the iPad, a subset of capabilities is available for other devices including the iPhone and select Android phones and tablets.
2. » Build Your Own Mobile Thin Clients
In some cases you may need more customization or additional functionality not provided by the Data Dashboard for LabVIEW. Another option is to build your own custom thin client and communicate to your measurement system using web services.
A web service is an API that lives on the web. A client sends an HTTP request to a remote server, which processes the request and replies with a response (typically XML). The response is then interpreted and displayed by the client application. You rely on this communication method for everyday activities such as browsing the web, checking emails, and even reading articles online.
The following are components of a web service:
Server—An application responsible for parsing a request, executing the appropriate method or action, and sending a response to the client.
Client—An application that sends a request to the server and waits to receive a response, which is then interpreted by the client.
Standard Protocols—Web-based protocols such as HTTP route data over physical networks from the client to the appropriate server method and then back to the client.
Network—The physical layer, such as Ethernet or IEEE 802.11, over which data is transmitted.
Jeff Kodosky, the “Father of LabVIEW,” demonstrates future touch-based programming with LabVIEW on a tablet computer at NIWeek 2012.
3. » Send SMS Alerts From LabVIEW
One of the simplest ways to remotely monitor a system is with text messages, which can be sent to any mobile phone. LabVIEW includes built-in functions for sending emails and you can use these email functions for sending SMS text messages.
This works for most major cellphone carriers by interfacing their email with SMS gateways. You can download example code to try this from the NI Community by searching “sms LabVIEW.”
4. » Desktop Sharing From a LabVIEW System
Desktop sharing, also called remote desktop, refers to software that helps you locally view or control a remote system’s running desktop. Traditionally this has been done from PC to PC, but more recently mobile apps have become available for doing this with a smartphone or tablet. Combining desktop sharing software with your LabVIEW measurement system results in a fairly simple way to add complete remote monitoring or administration of the system to a mobile device.
The most common desktop sharing software is the Remote Desktop services built into Microsoft Windows and a protocol called Virtual Network Computing (VNC). While these services are easy to configure for use on local networks, they are more difficult to configure for secure access from the outside world. Hosted services like LogMeIn, TeamViewer, and GoToMyPC make setup easier by using standard web protocols and tunneling all traffic through their servers. This eliminates the need for your IT department to configure access from outside the firewall and provides safe, easy entry to a PC from anywhere in the world.
A potential disadvantage of desktop sharing is that the remote computer is only transferring an image of a running desktop. The client computer doesn’t have local access to the actual measurement data. Large image transfers can also become bandwidth intensive.
You can use a variety of tools to add mobile technology to your measurements and control system.
5. » Portable Data Acquisition With Windows Tablets
Microsoft recently delivered a new addition to the tablet market with its Windows 8 Surface tablet. LabVIEW and NI hardware drivers are already supported on versions of Windows 8 with Intel processors. This means you can port existing LabVIEW code to run on Windows 8 tablets easily using LabVIEW to create mobile apps. Even though you may need a few tweaks to make your front panel “touch friendly,” you can avoid rewriting everything from scratch in another programming language, as would be necessary for iOS and Android. Most Windows 8 tablets also include USB ports and built-in WiFi so you can connect any USB or networked DAQ device to create portable systems based on LabVIEW. In addition to supporting Windows 8 tablets, NI offers experimental technology on NI Labs that you can use to directly connect iOS and Android devices to an NI cDAQ-9191 chassis for wirelessly taking measurements. NI Labs showcases evolving technologies from NI R&D engineers to be experienced prior to release. This virtual research lab gives you the chance to download and work with cutting-edge developments, offer product feedback, and get answers to your questions.
6. A Glimpse of the Future
Mobile technology is still very young. The iPhone first released only five years ago and the iPad only two years ago. The technology is evolving quickly, but has already opened the doors to a new world of connectivity, information access, and interactivity. The latest tools from NI are just the beginning. LabVIEW is the most touch-ready language on the planet. Stay tuned because there are a lot more exciting things to come.
Chris Delvizis is a product manager for data acquisition at National Instruments.
This article first appeared in the Q4 2012 issue of Instrumentation Newsletter.