Using LabVIEW for Contemporary Art at the Eiffel Tower

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"Because of its flexibility and performance, LabVIEW is the essential tool to recreate the development of the first CPU in history in a reasonable time."

- Frédéric IMBERT, Développement Ingénierie

The Challenge:
Making a test platform and dedicated software to create test clocks based on vintage components for contemporary art at the Eiffel Tower.

The Solution:
Using LabVIEW system design software, NI PXI hardware, NI SCXI data acquisition hardware, and the NI Vision Development Module to develop and validate the display electronics.

Author(s):
Frédéric IMBERT - Développement Ingénierie

Développement Ingénierie (DI) designs and builds data acquisition systems and test benches for production plants and consulting offices using LabVIEW system design software. DI is a master of software and hardware, which helps it provide test solutions perfectly adapted to every need.

From Industry to Contemporary Art

Since 2005, in addition to its industrial activities, DI has also diversified into the innovative pop art genre of contemporary art. This includes anything from making clocks based on crazy and improbable ideas to reviving, restaging, and integrating the first Russian and American electronic components of the 1970s from technology.

LabVIEW as a Dedicated Software Workshop

We wanted to reactivate the first microprocessors and the first electronic memory of the 1970s, for which no further integrated development suite exists today. To accomplish this, we had to recreate a complete software studio from the original specifications of Russian and American CPUs, including an assembler, compiler, and simulator, and we needed to generate programming files for the Russian EPROM.

The EIFFEL 1889 Collection

Since 2012, in partnership with the City of Paris and the operating company of the Eiffel Tower, DI has created an exclusive collection of 12 unique pieces that are made ​​from beams and decorative original arches of the Eiffel Tower structure and include a clock showing the stylized Eiffel Tower and Paris. These replicas start to time automatically and show the exact same time as the Eiffel Tower through an onboard GPS receiver.

We used Russian displays and LEDs that were designed in the 1950s and 1960s, at the time the first Sputnik satellite was developed. They consisted of a stack of 10 cathodes, representing the digits 0 to 9, and an anode grid. When we applied a bias voltage of 180 VDC between the gate and the anode end of a cathode 10, the gas contained in the display instantaneously ionized as a halo around the cathode and the corresponding number appeared.

PXI and SCXI for High-Voltage Test

We needed to characterize the DC-DC converters to set the control parameters. We used a tester consisting of an NI PXI-1031 chassis, an NI PXI-8186 embedded controller, a multifunction data acquisition card, RS232 and IEEE 1394 communication interfaces, a 4-slot NI SCXI chassis, and LabVIEW. The SCXI chassis included two NI SCXI-1140 8-channel simultaneous-sampling differential amplifier modules for the acquisition of 16 simultaneous analog channels, an NI SCXI-1120 8-Channel isolation amplifier module for the acquisition of high voltages after reduction by isolated channels, and an NI SCXI-1160 relay module for endurance tests. We used this configuration to perform all the necessary tests on the test clocks.

Three DC-DC converters and three control loops, controlled in real time, generated +180 VDC from the +12 V supply, so we could maintain +180 VDC polarization regardless of the number of lights on.

Using Vision for Contactless Validation of the Systems

We developed a contactless test solution to test the program calculations and displays of different lamps using a monochrome camera with an IEEE 1394 interface that is associated with an IEEE 1394 camera and the NI Vision Development Module.

For the displays, image processing held and checked the calculation algorithms for the number of years and days elapsed since the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower; the current week, day, and year numbers; and the time, date, and GPS coordinates of the clock.

The system automatically extracted digits from the framed image and analyzed the correlation with the 2D reference images of the digits 0 to 9 previously stored. This technique provided a 2D correlation recognition rate of 100 percent of digits despite the differences in the shape and dimensions of the Russian tubes.

For the lamps and lights, several types of illuminations, including progressive or random, decorated the Eiffel Tower until for one minute and 59 seconds. Every two minutes, the Eiffel Tower turned off each time in a different way.

Given the large number of calculations necessary to operate the GPS data and low power components used, we needed to test the speed of the code to ensure that all treatments and views could take place before the next second. We checked the progressive lighting of the lights in accordance with the illumination algorithm used and data provided by the GPS from the image of the clock acquired every second.

Advanced Technology Behind the Vintage Displays

LabVIEW software and NI technology helped us develop a comprehensive test of the “firmware” contained in the clocks. Thus, this technology was an integral part of the success of the contemporary art collections called CCCP & USA Play Again and, in particular, the EIFFEL 1889 collection.

This concept of illumination with vintage components was adapted to other iconic monuments around the world including the Empire State building and the Chrysler building in partnership with the City of New York Buildings Collection; the Burj Al Arab in Dubai; and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi for the Collection Emirates.

Author Information:
Frédéric IMBERT
Développement Ingénierie
5, allée Blanc soleil
78121 Crespières
France
Tel: + 33 (0) 6 11 88 49 09
f.imbert@difrance.fr

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