LTE test and measurement equipment may not seem quite as sexy as the iPhone, but for National Instruments CEO Dr. James Truchard there are strong similarities. “Our combination of hardware and software tightly integrated, with lots of drivers present, create a standardized platform that can be shared across many applications,” says Truchard. “It’s kind of the same reason that the iPhone has been so successful.” Truchard says that like the iPhone, his company’s test and measurement solutions combine power with simplicity. “Under the hood, there’s literally hundreds of man years of effort that’s been expended,” he says. “If you’re doing it one-off you have to recreate that. If you’re doing a custom one-time design it’s not flexible. So LabVIEW is attempting to do both, be flexible and fast.”
James Truchard and Jeff Kodosky invented National Instruments’ LabVIEW system design software in 1986, ten years after they cofounded the company. Truchard likes to compare LabVIEW’s graphical approach to instrument design to the spreadsheet’s approach to financial analysis. “As we see in many areas, software is center stage,” he says.
The company recently introduced a vector signal transceiver that is field programmable, meaning that engineers can configure it on the test site, and that it can scale as new software becomes available. Truchard says the product is a manifestation of the same ideas on which he founded the company back in the 1970’s. His ideas about virtual instrumentation formed when he was working at the University of Texas, using computers to build a test system for acoustical measurements. “It was an area that no off-the-shelf hardware actually worked for and so we had to design hardware and software. As it turned out, it was very revolutionary when I look at it in the rear view mirror, in that we were literally building virtual instrumentation … We were taking computers and digitizers and arbitrary waveform generators and creating a virtual instrument solution. That’s this combination of software and digitizers and waveform generation capability to create
a new way to build instruments. That would be the foundation idea for our virtual instrumentation.” Truchard says that to this day, National Instruments uses the same approach to building test and measurement systems.
Truchard has won almost as much attention for his innovative approach to management as he has for his contributions to test and measurement. He has no office at National Instruments; instead he works out of a cubicle when he’s not on his feet. “I have a cube which I am rarely in because I spend a lot of my time managing by walking around. I travel quite a bit too, but I don’t see any particular reason to have a cube any different from anybody else,” he says.