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That indeed was the Shakespearean choice that National
Instruments co-founder and CEO James Truchard offered in his keynote this week
at the 50th Design Automation Conference.
Aside from turning a noun into a verb ("to platform"), few
in our industry would argue with Truchard's question. That is, the quickening
pace of innovation, increasing technology specialization and advancing electronics-systems
complexity requires abstraction. It requires higher level perches and platforms
from which to fight tomorrow's technology battles. The alternative is much
slower design cycles, less-profitable (or profit-free) products.
"It's about abstraction," Truchard told the audience here at
the Austin Convention Center. "We believe abstraction is critical if you want
to do these ever more complex systems."
Up a level
That abstraction varies, whether it's at the chip level
(think DSP or, say, ARM processor) or the board level (think Arduino) or
consumer solution (think iOS/Android).
Truchard offered an example:
"One of my favorites that I like to talk about is the
bagpipe tuner. Whoever was ... doing that customized bagpipe tuner now discovers
they have a $24.95 competitor that runs on the iPhone. So this is truly
revolutionizing the way many, many designs are being done, moving to a
At NI, the company has pushed up the abstraction chain in
the past four decades as it serves the instrumentation and control-systems
markets. Its LabView graphical programming platform helps engineers
scale from design to test and from small to large systems.
NI adheres to the "V"
design model used in the automotive and aerospace industries, where development
and test--each starting apart on one arm of the "V"--gradually join at implementation.
"You got different levels, starting with system-level
design, modeling and analysis, and then component design. And then on the other
side is system-level test, and we're putting a lot of focus on this cyber
physical testing, hardware in the loop, and protocol-aware test, where you
implement the protocol that the chip uses internally. This is where good
cooperation with chip-design tools can be very helpful to share chip IP across
Evolution, not revolution
It's an evolution, to be sure. In Truchard's eyes, it began
in the 1980s when designers relied on individual instruments and test devices
to today where companies like NI leverage increasingly cost-effective hardware
platforms with software--flexible and constantly evolving--to lift engineering
productivity as designers move up the abstraction ladder.
"Today's engineers will design hardware and software that go
into system-level platforms including systems on a chip, or they'll use them,"
Truchard said. "In either case, they have to know and understand system-level
And while he closed his
keynote with the "to platform" question, Truchard had already answered it.