Panelist on the Innovation Panel and the 2023 IEEE James H. Mulligan Jr. Education Medal
As an engineer, business owner, and global technical leader, James Truchard has always been driven by a vision to empower engineers to be more innovative and efficient—and his work to make that vision a reality has had enormous worldwide impact. He cofounded National Instruments (NI), a software and hardware company that has been remarkably successful in developing products that aid engineers in general—and engineering students in particular. NI’s best-known invention is LabVIEW, which changed engineering education in the mid-1980s when it was released. LabVIEW was a breakthrough that made sophisticated instrumentation accessible to unsophisticated users. Its central innovation was the concept of graphical programs, in which instrumentation systems are constructed by wiring together icons on a screen rather than writing low-level C code, the prevalent method at the time. This allowed students with little or no experience to set and use sophisticated measurement and control systems. Truchard recognized, however, due to the novelty of LabVIEW and the challenges of upgrading instrumentation in undergraduate labs, that the impact of LabVIEW would be limited without an accompanying investment in efforts to reduce the cost of adopting virtual instrumentation. So he created the Academic Relations Program to bring every engineering and science student worldwide access to LabVIEW. The technology was later made accessible to high school students and even young kids through Robolab, a LabVIEW-based product bundled with LEGO Mindstorms robotics kits. Over the past few decades, engineers and scientists from “grade school to grad school” and throughout the professional industry have been empowered by Truchant’s innovations to design and build systems in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional programming approaches. LabVIEW has been adapted to a wide variety of industry applications, from automotive to medical. It has enabled power sources in remote African villages and early-detection methods for cancer. Just as impressive is the impact Truchard has made in technical education and in motivating untold numbers of young children worldwide to pursue careers in science and engineering.
An IEEE Fellow, Truchard is the founder and former chairman and CEO, National Instruments, Austin, Texas, USA.