Mechatronics: From Lab to Student Design to Research


The NI ELVIS RIO Control Module brings the industrial standard NI Reconfigurable I/O (NI RIO) architecture to the NI ELVIS teaching lab station. This enables students to learn and apply concepts in mechatronics lab classes using the same tools of discovery as what are used for designing mechatronics systems by engineers in research and industry. By combining LabVIEW graphical programming, the NI RIO architecture, and NI ELVIS instrumentation into a single lab station, students can quickly simulate, test, and design with mechatronics concepts learned in the classroom. Since NI academic hardware and software are built on the same architectures as NI industrial hardware and software, students will simultaneously gain valuable skills for their engineering careers.


The NI RIO Architecture

The NI ELVIS RIO Control Module is one product in a continuum of products all built on the NI RIO architecture.  This architecture enables mechatronics design through high performance I/O, an unprecedented flexibility in system timing control, and the ability to rapidly create custom hardware circuitry.  It consists of four components: a processor, a reconfigurable FPGA, inputs and outputs, and graphical design software.  

By using LabVIEW graphical programing, mechatronics system designers can have immediate visibility into their system status in real time, which rapidly accelerates the iterative design process.  This solution for mechatronics design has been embraced by academia, research, and industry alike as a world-class solution for rapid development of complex, powerful mechatronics and controls system.

The NI RIO Continuum

Each NI product built on the RIO architecture is optimized for a specific use case.  They vary by form factor, features, performance specifications, application-based software and hardware add-ons, and resource materials.  

NI ELVIS RIO Control Modulefor the mechatronics lab

In addition to the benefits of the NI RIO architecture, the NI ELVIS provides a structural foundation for constrained mechatronics systems.  It provides built in instrumentation for visualizing any and all measurements of mechatronics concepts as well as quickly testing and troubleshooting when it’s needed most.  Students can use the getting started experience, LabVIEW express VIs, and built-in software templates to quickly learn and use the technology.  

Mechatronics lab experiences can be based on complex, high fidelity add-on boards with out-of-the-box lab manuals and software by Quanser, Inc.  NI also offers modular and flexible courseware for learning mechatronics fundamentals and applying them in mechatronics projects.

Georgia Tech Success

Dr. David MacNair of Georgia Tech chose the NI ELVIS RIO Control Module because it gave him the most flexibility and control of the hardware and software abstraction levels he exposed to his mechatronics students.  He enabled students to learn about signal conditioning and circuit diagnostics in a hands on manner using the NI ELVIS instrumentation, taking advantage of high sampling rates and voltage ranges.  Once students began designing complex mechatronics systems, they used the high level abstraction that the NI ELVIS RIO Control Module offered.  Mechatronics students were able to learn and experience both low level and high level design quickly – exposing the low-level hardware and software when necessary, but then abstracting it so that students can also learn about mechatronics system design in a single semester.



NI myRIOfor student and mechatronics design projects.


After learning mechatronics fundamentals in the lab, students can apply their skills to complex mechatronics projects with myRIO, another academic product based on the NI RIO architecture.  

NI myRIO offers additional I/O and built in onboard devices like programmable LEDs, an accelerometer, and a WIFI radio.  The form-factor of myRIO is ideal for stand-alone or mobile projects since it can be simply mounted and disconnected from host devices.  NI myRIO offers the same software experience and I/O pinout as the NI ELVIS RIO Control Module, allowing for a seamless transition for students.  NI offers resources like the Project Essentials Guide and Vision Essentials Guide that enable students to quickly connect myRIO to common mechatronics interfaces, sensors and actuators.  

NI myRIO also has a full ecosystem of accessories for expanding mechatronics designs, many of which can be configured for the NI ELVIS RIO Control module which you can learn more about here

ETH Zurich

When capstone design students at ETH Zurich took on the audacious challenge of designing a wheelchair that can balance on two wheels and climb stairs at any angle of incline, they chose myRIO as the wheelchair control system and LabVIEW as the programming language.  The graphical nature of LabVIEW was a huge advantage for the team’s mechanical engineers who had not programmed much before.  The team used myRIO to read data from the system’s IMU and motor encoders, run control algorithms, and drive the motors.  The myRIO compact size, mounting abilities, and vast amount of I/O made it the perfect device for controlling their stair-climbing wheelchair, enabling the students to improve the lives of disabled people.  Read more here.



NI RIO Products for Research – for the full spectrum of embedded, monitoring and control needs

After using the NI ELVIS RIO Control Module and myRIO, students can quickly transition to NI RIO based products that are ubiquitous in both research and industry.  NI offers multiple product lines of industrial RIO products that vary in form factor, size, performance, and I/O options.  NI CompactRIO(cRIO) is ideal for extreme environmental conditions and specialized I/O due to its rugged form factor and modular I/O ports.  NI Single-Board RIO (sbRIO) is ideal for embedded systems and OEM needs due to its small form-factor and lower cost.  Other examples of NI RIO Industrial products include R-Series PXI and PCI cardsFlexRIO, and the NI System on Module (SOM).


The Central Advanced Research and Engineering Institute at Hyundai Motor company standardized on the NI RIO architecture for both prototyping and deploying their wearable robotics device for walking assistance.  When selecting a main controller for their wearable robots, they needed high-speed processing of data from various sensors, real-time data visualization for developing control algorithms, and connectivity to other smart devices, making LabVIEW and NI RIO the obvious choice.  While prototyping, they used cRIO for its modular I/O design, and took advantage of the flexibility of FPGA as their system architecture changed and developed.  Once they needed to embed the controller into their mechanical design, they transitioned to an NI System on Module (SOM) for its small footprint, light weight, and power efficiency.  The same RIO architecture that enabled students to learn mechatronics concepts and system design with the ELVIS RIO Control Module and myRIO was used for this complex design.  It enabled the engineers to iterate quickly, interface with a variety of sensors, and perform complex control algorithms, just like the students in mechatronics classes.  Learn more here.


NI RIO Product Comparison Chart

See the chart below for more information on academic and industrial NI RIO Devices:


Complete Mechatronics Lab Stations with the NI ELVIS RIO Control Module

Hands-on lab experiences are critical for students to learn mechatronics concepts through simulation, experimentation, and design.  NI partnered with other leaders in engineering education to offer complete teaching solutions.  Each solution includes hardware, software, and teaching materials that enable professors to provide hands-on experiences from the fundamentals to the complex. 

Quanser Mechatronics Systems Add-on Board and Lab Resources


The Quanser Mechatronics Systems add-on board is the fourth add-on board of a continuum of mechatronics teaching solutions with NI ELVIS by Quanser, Inc.  The first three mechatronics add-on boards are used with ELVIS directly, and introduce students to the fundamentals of mechatronics sensors, actuators, and interfaces.  The Mechatronics Systems add-on board integrates all these concepts, as well as mechanical and programming principles, to provide a system-level experience with mechatronics. 

The system is turn-key, and includes a four-bar linkage system, DC motors, encoders, and a camera.  Student labs vary in complexity and activities.  Process labs focus on functionality and testing of individual processes. System-level labs challenge students to use the combination of individual processes to complete tasks.  Every lab includes LabVIEW software resources, student lab manuals, and instructor answer manual.  Students learn and apply skills in image processing, motion control, task control, and more. 

By working with high-fidelity hardware implemented in a fixed, yet flexible system, students can quickly learn complex mechatronics system design concepts without the added time-consuming variable of troubleshooting improper circuitry, hardware with insufficient specifications, or easily worn-out mechanisms.  The concepts learned and applied with the Quanser Mechatronics Systems Add-On can be applied simultaneously or sequentially with open-ended mechatronics design projects as described below or with myRIO.


When learning mechatronics concepts and design, students must have the right tools and learning platforms to simulate, prototype, and design mechatronics systems.  They also need to develop skills that are transferable by using the same technology they will encounter in research and industry.  By standardizing on the NI ELVIS RIO Control Module in the mechatronics lab, students can immediately access instrumentation, fast and flexible I/O, and graphical programming all in a single lab station.  This allows them to learn about separate mechatronics elements as well as mechatronics systems by utilizing multiple layers of hardware and software abstraction for fast, practical learning.  By using a product that’s part of the NI RIO continuum, students will also gain skills they can build on in design projects with LabVIEW and myRIO, and then implement those same skills in their engineering careers.