Squeezing LabVIEW into Universities

Posted on Tuesday 2 September 2008

NI is hard at work enabling young people to learn about science, math, and engineering via LabVIEW with products Lego WeDo and Mindstorms, as well as sponsorship and involvement in the FIRST Robotics Competitions.  In addition to doing a great thing by helping young people learn, a side effect is that LabVIEW is being squeezed into universities.  I’ll explain.

LabVIEW has been highly successful in industry, where it really has become a tool of choice for engineers who need to automate test, measurement, and control applications.  Additionally, the NI platform is well poised to be a tool of choice for system design, development, and deployment, as industry sees that the graphical approach, with a fully integrated tool-chain, just makes a lot of sense (because it saves time and money).

However, universities and engineering schools are very entrenched in both older (and freely available, open) technologies.  These academic institutions currently feel the top-down weight of industry demanding engineers who are proficient in LabVIEW and will soon feel the bottom-up swell of myriad youngsters who learned LabVIEW while playing with the Lego WeDo and Mindstorms and then participating in FIRST Robotics Competitions.

Universities won’t have any choice but to start using LabVIEW to teach a variety of engineering courses, because students will be demanding it — that’s the squeeze. When this happens, NI will have realized its goal of getting LabVIEW to be used everywhere from “K through Rocket Science” (an NI marketing mantra).

Now, I don’t want to undermine what an incredible thing NI is doing by helping educate our youngsters, using LabVIEW — I’m just saying that it’s a pretty smart move ;)

Note: I wish that LabVIEW was a standard at UC Berkeley, back in the late ’90s, when I was in school.  I was fortunate to get a student research assistant job at LBNL during my first year, which lasted through graduation, where I was assigned the task of learning LabVIEW and adding a couple features to spectroscopy control and data acquisition system.  I loved LabVIEW and had to fight hard to get my instructors to let me use it for my assigments instead of HP (now Agilent) VEE.  Anyhow, I kept using LabVIEW all through school and decided to keep using it, to this very day.

6 Comments for 'Squeezing LabVIEW into Universities'

    Ton Plomp
    September 2, 2008 | 1:20 am

    NI has (like other companies) very interesting licenses for high-schools and universities. However they have been looking at the term ‘educational institution’. For instance the dutch NASA counter part (SRON) had to buy commercial licenses although were heavily into education. Part of a university building, lots of scientists and researchers.


    Pat Allen
    September 2, 2008 | 6:03 am

    “However, universities and engineering schools are very entrenched in both older (and freely available, open) technologies.”

    One thing I hope universities don’t do, is to completely give up the use of “open” technologies.

    Not to say that I don’t love working in LabVIEW. I can, and have done some pretty neat stuff with it. Those results (and the job that requires them) have given me a much greater interest in programming in general, and have fueled my interest to learn more. But I also really believe in the “shared knowledge” of open source.

    Learning how to find and use open source tools of all kinds is an important skill that I think every student should have exposure to.

    Having LabVIEW is like having a really nice Swiss Army Knife. All kinds of great tools are right there.

    But if you don’t have that Swiss Army Knife for whatever reason, it’s important to know how to rummage through the drawer for that old butter knife that works pretty good as a screwdriver.

    September 2, 2008 | 7:47 am

    I interned at NI my sophomore year at Texas Tech having never heard of LabVIEW… I had a huge advantage against the other students as by my senior year it had quickly become a necessity in at least 2 of the 5 project labs.

    Getting licensing to Universities will certainly expand LabVIEW use and acceptance, but the bigger challenge will be getting even a small amount of proper training to those students… If only there was a book that I could recommend.

    September 2, 2008 | 5:13 pm

    Some universities have been good about exposing their students to LabVIEW. I was introduced to LabVIEW at Virginia Tech, where LabVIEW is used to teach courses and on various projects such as the Autonomous Vehicle. What I learned in school there ended up being extremely useful in industry.

    September 2, 2008 | 5:15 pm

    Also, the time at Virginia Tech that I refer to was about 7 years ago (around 2001).

    September 12, 2008 | 10:05 am

    “…I was fortunate to get a student research assistant job at LBNL during my first year.”

    I had a similar experience – I worked for the Sydney Microstructural Analysis Unit as an AFM/SEM scientists (readers might be surprised that my background is in physics, not CS), and LabVIEw helped me immensly. I actually tried to work a project (spectral emissions from samples in a cathodal-luminescent SEM – and old Joel-35C) in c++, but gave up after a month to go back to LabVIEW – LabVIEW helped me get what I wanted done, whereas I felt that c++ was getting my way.

    One of the courses in my degree included an instrumentation track – we had to complete 3 proactical assignments from a list of 7 that we were given to choose from. The 7th was titled “LabVIEW project” – when I asked the lecturer what it was about, he said it was a placeholder and would be made available to the next class goign through. I pleased with him to let me write an assignment for that 7th slot, and sure enough, he did, and that assignment (with some tweaks) is still part of the ciriculum :)

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