TechShop staff work with National Instruments' VirtualBench

TechShop staff work with National Instruments’ VirtualBench

TechShop today announced a new partnership with hardware and software manufacturer National Instruments. Sensors, software, and hardware from NI will begin to appear in TechShops, starting with the shop in San Francisco and the Austin, Texas location.

The move seems to be a step on TechShop’s part to pursue more professional electronic engineers. It could make TechShop more useful for members who want to put electronics in their projects, which tends to be a lot of them, according to CEO Mark Hatch. It’s a step into more advanced tools, he says, on par with the other labs in the shop.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are doing a wide range of electronics-based projects,” says Hatch. “Electronics and sensors are becoming an increasingly important component.”

National Instruments focuses largely on pro-quality sensors, which will be increasingly useful in the burgeoning internet of things. Hatch loosely compares the partnership to TechShop’s relationship with Autodesk, which provides top-end software for all computers at all locations.

Specifically, the new electronics benches will feature VirtualBench hardware — an all-in-one oscilloscope, multimeter, function generator, power supply, and digital I/O — LabVIEW software, as well as myRIO and myDAQ educational hardware. An added benefit, says Hatch, is the setup takes less space than TechShop’s current electronics benches, so they’ll be able to squeeze more equipment into the same amount of space.

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Tim Ousley, an engineer National Instruments, designed an interactive art piece to kick off the partnership. A linked up series of hexagonal lights, mounted in the electronics lab at TechShop San Francisco, it’s attached to a camera and various other sensors, which track the way members use the electronics bench and interpret it as light patterns. The more advanced the bench use, the more intricate the display.

“We feel that this gamification of the lab, really is making an easy on ramp to this very powerful platform,” says Ousley. “That’s your first step onto a very rich platform.”

This is just a first-step test drive, according to Hatch, with the eventual goal of placing National Instruments labs in every TechShop.

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Nathan Hurst

Nathan Hurst

Nathan Hurst is an editor at Make. He loves anything having to do with science or bicycling. He tweets as @nathanbhurst.


  • scottman22

    Interesting idea. However, I have to think that the cost of NI products ($1999 starting for VirtualBench) will keep them out of many makers’ hands. Plus, they seem to be pretty OS limited.

    • Stric Roberts

      If I’m a working EE, who dabbles during my free time. . .it would be a great way to expose me to their products. Maybe I get funding from job X to do specific testing. . .oh hey! this NI product is perfect, and I’ve used it before! I’ll recommend it for use.

      It makes sense to me for them to do this for that reason alone.

  • jdm8

    Given this is a press release driven story, it would be nice if you included a link to the press release.