The Manufacturer chats innovation, mobile communications and technology with National Instruments' (NI) vice president for Europe, Robert Morton.
Innovation is at the core of NI’s business. How well do you think the UK electronics industry is responding to rapid changes in technology development?
It’s easy to assume manufacturing is all leaving UK shores and moving to lower cost economies, but don’t forget it’s still the third largest sector of the UK economy.
Established UK focus and leadership in research, product design and development – across robotics, aerospace, medical, wireless communications, and sustainable, low carbon and green energy technologies – help keep our electronics industry at the forefront of innovation.
Rapid changes in technology development, such as 3D printing, low-cost microcontrollers and wireless capability, are helping drive this beyond the established academic and industrial research and design domain, fuelling a “maker movement”.
Allied to this easier access to technology, tools and networks, new crowdfunding models are also helping democratise entrepreneurship.
What are the main areas of NI’s business where you are seeing the majority of innovation coming from?
The ubiquitous connectivity and embedded intelligence of both the consumer and industrial Internet of Things (IoT) is driving tremendous innovation. NI equips engineers and scientists with systems to accelerate productivity, innovation and discovery.
We see our customers driving innovation across test, measurement, embedded control and monitoring applications, using NI measurement and control tools to design embedded systems for the industrial IoT, as well as lower the cost of test for consumer IoT products.
NI’s profits increased significantly in 2014. To what do you attribute to this success?
NI is a company built and successfully managed for long-term, sustainable growth and profitability. Over time, we have maintained focus on developing a company built to last, with disciplined execution and continued investment in our differentiated platform to deliver on our strategy of reducing the costs of our customers’ systems, while growing our business in the markets we serve.
What are your predictions for the future of mobile communications in the next decade?
IoT and the proliferation of smart, connected devices are continuing to fuel demand for bandwidth. Beyond the need for greater bandwidth, new design constraints including security, coexistence and power consumption are emerging.
To address these demands, 5G researchers are exploring and prototyping new wireless communications technologies and techniques – from massive MIMO to millimetre wave.
These underlying technologies will help provide the infrastructure to service bandwidth demands for changing patterns in media consumption, as well as always-on embedded computation, communication and connectivity everywhere.
What project that NI is currently working on do you think will have the greatest impact on today’s society?
Certainly, NI’s LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite, which offers a design environment closely integrated with NI software defined radio (SDR) hardware for rapidly prototyping communications systems, is helping wireless researchers tear down the walls between algorithm design, system mapping and implementation.
But it’s our customers – and what they do with NI tools and systems – that will have the greatest impact on today’s society. It’s engineers and scientists who will ultimately have to address and solve the grand challenges facing society, from restoring and improving urban infrastructure to providing safe, sustainable energy and clean drinking water for all.
That’s a key reason we maintain such an active STEM-focused academic programme, aiming to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists, as well as providing tools for their hands-on learning which scale all the way from the classroom to research and industry.