USB device turns student laptops into multi-function meters

National Instruments has announced a low-cost USB data acquisition device aimed at students.

The idea behind the $175 myDAQ is that it enables students to work with real analogue circuits, making measurements and doing signal processing anywhere they can use a laptop, not just in the lab, said NI's academic product manager Mark Walters.

“We want to encourage students to engage more with their projects – to actually DO engineering, as opposed to only learning about it,” Walters added. “It enables you to take in data and analyse it – in effect it gives you a software DMM (digital multimeter) and oscilloscope.”

“Students need exposure to real circuits and hardware, but the problem for engineering professors is trying to meet the increasing cost of providing real electronics with continually tighter budgets,” agreed Dr Tony Ambler, chairman of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

He continued: “NI myDAQ is inexpensive enough for every student to have their own, plug it into their laptop at home, in the dorm or in the park, and experiment with the real electronics all around them, without using lab time or lab equipment.”

The pocket-sized device uses NI's LabVIEW software, so will work with a Mac or a Windows PC, and includes eight software-based instruments. As well as the DMM and oscilloscope, these are a function generator, a Bode analyser, a dynamic signal analyser, an arbitrary waveform generator, and a digital reader and writer.

Walters noted that alongside connectors for probes and the like, myDAQ has a 3.5mm audio jack so can be used to acquire data from an iPod or other audio player, say. He added that the device was designed in co-operation with Texas Instruments and includes TI analogue elements such as data converters, amplifiers, and interface and power management.

Further information:
Dr Tony Ambler discusses myDAQ (video)
NI myDAQ curriculum resources
Fun NI myDAQ application demonstrations (video)

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