Using NI FieldPoint and LabVIEW Real-Time to Perform Closed-System Experiments at the Laboratory Biosphere Prototype
"With LabVIEW Real-Time and FieldPoint I/O, we achieved a low-cost and highly integrated solution that remains flexible for future development and system expansion, and eliminates the need of a custom-designed system."
- Mark Van Thicco,
Constructing an advanced prototype of the Laboratory Biosphere to perform pioneering closed-system experiments that require the acquisition of data from sensors, archiving, retrieval and graphical presentation of the results, and remote control of HVAC and other critical mechanical systems in real time.
Using the NI FieldPoint I/O system to collect data and provide control capabilities, as well as the NI LabVIEW Real-Time and LabVIEW Datalogging and Supervisory Control modules to manipulate, archive, and output data over the Web for controlled remote access.
Gerard Houghton - Biosphere Foundation
Mark Van Thicco - Biosphere Foundation
Since we designed, built, and operated the Biosphere 2 research facility, we have been performing advanced research in the rapidly developing fields of biospherics, which includes controlled ecological life support systems (CELSS) and advanced life support systems (ALSS). Described as “an engineering marvel” and voted by the Discovery Channel as the third most advanced engineering project of the 20th century, Biosphere 2 was a 3.2 hectare footprint, closed-system facility that contained seven terrestrial biomes including an ocean system, a desert biome, and a tropical rainforest. From the outset, this experimental facility provided novel scientific insights into the complex natural processes that operate on the earth at the planetary scale. We are currently developing a series of small-scale modular biospheres that relies on the current laboratory biosphere, which is a sealed chamber prototype 12 ft in length and diameter and 1,400 cu ft.
We designed the Laboratory Biosphere to perform experiments on sustainable, soil-based agricultural systems and evaluate interactions along multiple vectors including light, water, atmospheric composition, temperature, and humidity to determine optimal growing conditions for a variety of crops within closed-system environments. The entire range of modular biosphere systems will provide essential baseline data for many developing technologies. In addition, the data combined with practical knowledge and experience gained while operating these complex systems is critical to a range of future applications, including the successful operation of a potential sustainable research base on Mars.
Achieving a Low-Cost, Flexible Solution with LabVIEW Real-Time and FieldPoint I/O
Due to the complexity of our research, no single off-the-shelf hardware or software system exists to provide immediate solutions to the specifications of the modular biosphere project. Initially, we investigated the use of microprocessors to acquire data from a large number of sensors and provide feedback and control systems using workstations. However, this approach required long hours for designing, programming, testing, and tweaking the systems before achieving simple initial objectives. Instead, we integrated LabVIEW Real-Time and the LabVIEW Datalogging and Supervisory Control modules with FieldPoint I/O hardware, including a range of eight-channel analog input modules to collect and transfer data from the sensors and modules to perform manual and automated system control. With LabVIEW Real-Time and FieldPoint I/O, we achieved a low-cost and highly integrated solution that remains flexible for future development and system expansion and eliminates the need of a custom-designed system.
We realized additional benefits of using NI software and hardware as we installed the test chamber and its associated equipment and set up the sensor system, the LabVIEW Datalogging and Supervisory Control and LabVIEW Real-Time modules, and the computer network tasks to gather and archive the resulting data. The laboratory biosphere prototype is a much smaller system than the massive Biosphere 2 facility, which required whole banks of dedicated data loggers. With the small form factor of FieldPoint, we easily and efficiently installed the modules in small cabinets.
NI products offered other important advantages: tracking capabilities of ongoing experiments in real time from anywhere in the world using software remote capabilities; ease of setup and ease of use as well as extensive graphics and Internet connectivity capabilities; operability on of a legacy Windows OS computer network; a high level of integration in collecting and manipulating many data sets; easy system operation engineers, scientists, machine operators, and Web technicians with different backgrounds; and simultaneous collection of scientific, engineering, and educational data using the same hardware and software configuration.
Future Internet Capabilities to Enhance Student Participation
To rapidly publish and share real-time data, our system has to have Internet capabilities. We plan to publish data and images from our ongoing series of experiments on the Web as part of our educational program. Eventually students will be able to track and participate in real-time discussions of closed-system experiments as they develop from start to finish.
NI Representatives Provide Superior Product Integration Support
Working closely with NI representatives, we learned how to best integrate the NI data acquisition systems in various infrastructure layers of the Laboratory Biosphere during construction. In addition to providing strong telephone support during the early stages of integrating NI products, many NI engineers became interested in the overall project and offered helpful advice about features and the underlying potential of the specified NI systems. Because of this gradual approach, we implemented a simple first-approximation system that we could reconfigure and refine as the Laboratory Biosphere system became more complex.
Conducting Successful Experiments with NI Products
After an initial “shakedown experiment” to test the mechanical systems, we collected a significant amount of interesting data during the first three-month closed experiment while growing a crop of dwarf soy beans. We are adding new features to the system by integrating cameras into the test module that will use the NI vision software functionality to provide visual feedback and help us understand and control the conditions of the sealed Laboratory Biosphere.
We have successfully conducted our first series of Laboratory Biosphere tests and experiments and scheduled a more ambitious series of experiments for the future. We look forward to continuing this ground-breaking project in conjunction with NI as we continue to use the company’s highly customizable software and hardware systems to maintain our current position as the forefront of closed-system technologies.
Explore the NI Developer Community
Discover and collaborate on the latest example code and tutorials with a worldwide community of engineers and scientists.
Who is National Instruments?
National Instruments provides a graphical system design platform for test, control, and embedded design applications that is transforming the way engineers and scientists design, prototype, and deploy systems.