Foreword by Ray Almgren

It was a little more than 20 years ago when we first formed ideas of what is now known as LabVIEW. We had a vision to create something that would do for engineers and scientists what the spreadsheet did for financial analysts. We never dreamt that one day LabVIEW would be used by children to build robots.

Over the years, LabVIEW has evolved, but the core graphical paradigm has remained the same; this graphical way of designing and describing systems helps many people build complex applications, including the hundreds of thousands of people programming LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT.

Our collaboration with LEGO Education began in 1998 when ROBOLAB, the software powered by LabVIEW and developed by the Tufts University Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, was launched for the original LEGO MINDSTORMS robotics software. ROBOLAB grew out of the visionary leadership of Dr. Chris Rogers, who saw that a graphical approach helped younger students learn programming skills. In 2006, LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT, the current generation of LEGO robotics, was co-developed by NI and LEGO to provide students with the latest hardware and software technology for building advanced, autonomous robotics. By combining the intuitive and interactive interface of LabVIEW graphical development software with the physical experience of building models out of LEGO bricks, we can bridge the physical and virtual worlds to provide the ultimate hands-on learning experience.

Today, students of all ages have access to a robotics platform that combines graphical programming with a LEGO building system. Students as young as 7 years can learn basic programming using LEGO Education WeDo™, a robotics platform for primary school education. Innovative programs initiatives such as the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competitions utilize LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT and LabVIEW to inspire a love of learning and interest in engineering. Students participating in FIRST begin with FIRST LEGO League in elementary school where they solve real-world problems with LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robots programmed with NXT-G. As student learning progresses, they can advance to more complex competitions such as the FIRST Tech Challenge, and finally the FIRST Robotics Competition, where they are confronted with a complex engineering challenge that must be accomplished in a short, six-week build period. Starting in 2009, the 150,000+ students in all of these competitions can use LabVIEW graphical programming, thus learning skills they can use in college and in their careers. Today, LabVIEW is truly used from kindergarten to rocket science!

The ecosystem surrounding the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT continues to expand. For example, new sensors and sensor adapters are being developed by companies like HiTechnic and Vernier. This ecosystem is building on the LEGO block’s ability to inspire creative thinking and problem-solving, and creating endless opportunities for tinkering, exploring, and interacting with the world. Now, thanks to Mike Gasperi and NTS Press we have a valuable new resource. Until now, there hasn’t been any real documentation, guides, or how to’s on the NXT Toolkit for LabVIEW, so I’m delighted this book is now available. The author has done a very nice job of knitting together LabVIEW programming concepts into an effective and readable presentation. I especially like the way Mike applies each function to an exercise. Anyone with a little programming experience working from this book should in no time be writing a higher level of programs and building more complex, highly-developed designs using LabVIEW.

If you are an instructor, use this book as a resource. If you are a professional, I encourage you to share your engineering talent by volunteering with one of the organizations I mention above. If you are a student learning from this book, I hope this sparks your interest in engineering, science, and math.

Ray Almgren
Vice President of Academic Relations
National Instruments