As NIWeek 2010, the graphical systems design convention, gets under way here in Austin, Texas, there is optimism in the air. The optimism is not just for business – we are in perhaps the most confident state of the USA, after all – but for the future of engineering.
Yesterday the host company, National Instruments, not only announced the latest version of its flagship LabVIEW software, it also released some headline numbers for the convention: almost 3000 paying delegates, which is a jump of eight per cent from last year, and a 103 per cent take-up of the exhibition space – yes, the exhibition was overbooked and more stand space had to be provided.
The exhibition segment – there’s also over 250 conference sessions of varying sizes – opens formally later today, and while much of it is deeply specialist, at yesterday’s preview it was striking just how many of the exhibits are all about showing what fun engineering can be. We’re talking education and enthusing the young here.
And it’s working too – we all know how successful Lego Mindstorms and its relatives have been at popularising robotics, and there is plenty of that here, but there’s also several other examples of whacky projects which were put together just to prove a point, and which then ‘went viral’ on YouTube or elsewhere.
Popcorn Tweets, the Twitter-powered popcorn machine is here, for example, and for this week you can also pop corn by tweeting the #niweek tag. There’s a machine that sorts M&Ms by colour, a robot that uses machine vision to play a video-game guitar, and lots more.