Today I went to the NIDays Conference in London's Savoy Place, home to the IET and, while it wasn't completely relevant to my robotics project, I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It had a great venue (with great food!), was very well organised and the presenters were excellent.
The day was kickstarted by a keynote in the main lecture theatre. Andy Green, RAF pilot and the driver of team Bloodhound SSC (http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/), gave a presentation about inspiring the engineers of tomorrow. Something he mentioned which I hadn't heard about before was the "Apollo effect", which was demonstrated by a graph showing the number of applications to university each year. During the time of the Apollo program, there was a steep increase in physics applications, suggesting that it motivated young people to take a career in a technical area. I have to say I totally agree with his interpretation of the statistics. People still speak of the time they watched Armstrong take his first step on the moon, and the emotion it brought to them is clear. It seems very unlikely that this had no impact on people's choice of degree around that time.
The technical presentations I attended were all about Industrial Control and Embedded Design. Using the Labview software, they can develop applications extremely quickly, and it seemed quite flexible, although I didn't have the chance to play around with it myself. For people who work to strict deadlines, and have no time to learn how things work and just want results, it looked almost perfect. For our robotics team however, the products were less appealing.
I attended a 1 hour hand-on session about the Elvis II educational board- http://www.ni.com/nielvis/. I was very impressed with the board itself, and its 12 embedded instruments (including digital oscilloscope, Bode plotter, and waveform generator). The software, MultiSim, was pretty good too, although I still think I prefer Eagle. The toolbars were a bit fiddly and small and I found a problem with creating an Elvis II schematic. The ports on either side of the board were bolted down in the schematic and couldn't be moved. Had this been a digital breadboard, then fine, the component's relative placements are important. But this was still a schematic, with triangular symbols for opamps, where position doesn't really matter. Still, i think it would provide a decent platform for beginners to explore many of the interesting concepts in electronic.
Finally, the Exhibition had 16 stands, and if you were interested in engineering solutions using NI technology, then it would have been fantastic .A competition was held, where you had to collect a sticker from each stand in the exhibition in order to enter. The prizes where Lego mindstorms kits, which I thought would really be great for the Robotics society, so I made sure I got all of the stickers. Although fun, I felt the competition distracted the exhibition from its real purpose, with team of people walking around on more of a treasure hunt, than a chance to network. This said, it did make sure that the final presentation had a decent audience since this is where the winner's names were drawn.