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Controller adopts real-time Linux on ARM+FPGA SoC

Aug 7, 2013 — by Eric Brown 3,373 views

National Instruments (NI) announced a redesigned version of its CompactRIO controller that runs a new NI Linux Real-Time OS on the Xilinx ARM+FPGA hybrid Zynq-7020 system-on-chip. The NI cRIO-9068 controller is fully compatible with the NI LabVIEW development environment, as well as more than 100 I/O modules available for the CompactRIO.

Like the popular CompactRIO controllers, which until now have run the VxWorks real-time operating system (RTOS) on other Xilinx field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), the NI cRIO-9068 is designed for a wide variety of high-end industrial control applications. Cited devices include systems that “can suppress fires on cargo airplanes, generate electricity through the flight of tethered kites, and precisely stack 20 tons of wet concrete,” says NI.

Configuring a customized cRIO-9068 control system
(click images to enlarge)

NI says it helped Xilinx design the Zynq-7020, the first Xilinx processor to put Linux in charge of FPGA operations via an ARM Cortex-A9 subsystem. The Zynq is claimed by NI to be four times faster than previous CompactRIO models, not only thanks to the dual 667MHz ARM cores, but because the Artix-7 class FPGA in the Zynq is more powerful than previous Xilinx FPGAs used in the controllers.

Xilinx Zynq-7000 ARM+FPGA SoC block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

NI developed a real-time optimized NI Linux distribution for the new NI cRIO-9068 system. NI Linux Real-Time is supported by NI’s updated LabVIEW 2013 IDE, and the RTOS-like Linux distro also supports C/C++ application development (see farther below for more on NI Linux.)

cRIO-9068 with key features identified
(click image to enlarge)

On the outside, the NI cRIO-9068 looks much the same as the CompactRIO. As before, the system comprises a chassis, a controller unit, standard I/O, and eight slots for sliding in hot-swappable “C Series” I/O modules from a selection of more than 100 options.

No memory stats were provided, although earlier models supported up to 4GB of RAM. Standard features are said to include a USB host port and dual gigabit Ethernet ports with IEEE 1588 and EtherCAT master support. Other standard ports include dual RS232 serial ports, and an isolated RS485 serial port.


Both 9V to 30V redundant power supply inputs are provided, and the entire system supports -40 to 70°C operating temperatures. The system also offers 50g shock resistance, adds NI.

The C Series I/O modules include 100 options in the following categories:

  • Multifunction, voltage input, voltage output, and digital I/O
  • Voltage and current measurements
  • Temperature, resistance, and strain and bridge controllers
  • Accelerometers and mics (IEPE sensors)
  • Voltage and current outputs
  • Digital inputs and outputs, and relays
  • Counter measurement and pulse generation
  • LIN and CAN ports and CANopen communication
  • Serial ports
  • Motion servos
  • Removable storage (dual SD slots for up to 4GB)
  • Wireless gateway (802.15.4)
  • DeviceNet communication
  • Timing and synchronization

The updated LabVIEW 2013 system design software provides a graphical integrated development environment (IDE) for scientists and engineers. With the addition of NI Linux Real-Time, developers now have access to “a rich set of community-sourced libraries and applications to augment their control and monitoring systems,” says NI. LabVIEW 2013 is also said to offer expanded connectivity options, including improved web service creation and secure, industry-standard WebDAV browser-based file management.

cRIO-9068 control and monitoring application examples
(click images to enlarge)

NI Linux Real-Time is a dual-mode OS, enabling recovery from application failure without significant disruption, says NI. The distribution facilitates “true multitasking support,” enabling multiple programs to run in parallel, says the company. For example, one can run a database directly on the real-time target alongside a LabVIEW Real-Time application. The company has published benchmarks purporting to show that NI Linux Real-Time “delivers hard real-time performance on par with the dedicated RTOS offered on current-generation CompactRIO targets” running VxWorks.

Thanks to Linux, management of user account control and user file system permissions is much easier, says NI. In addition, baked in support for security features such as VPN and firewalls avoids the need for purchasing external network security hardware.

“With this [NI cRIO-9068] platform we can provide software technologies to our customers which were almost impossible before or would have required a long development time and high investment,” stated Wolfram Koerver, executive director of S.E.A.

No pricing or availability information was provided for the NI cRIO-9068, although it appears to be ready now. The CompactRIO Advisor page lets you piece together a modular system, providing prices on all 100+ modules. Although it has yet to be updated for the new NI cRIO-9068 controller, the modules appear to be the same. More information may be found on the NI cRIO-9068 product page.

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