All You Need to Know About MATLAB (Matrix Laboratory)

MATLAB is defined as the proprietary software app and programming language by MathWorks, which facilitates complex data analysis tasks such as algorithm implementation, interacting with other apps, and manipulating a data matrix. This article explains the purpose of MATLAB, its key concepts, and use cases in 2022.

What Is MATLAB (Matrix Laboratory)?

MATLAB is the proprietary software app and programming language by MathWorks, which facilitates complex data analysis tasks such as algorithm implementation, interacting with other apps and manipulating a data matrix. 

How MATLAB Operates

How MATLAB Operates | Source

MATLAB stands for Matrix laboratory. It was designed by Cleve Moller and developed by MathWorks. It is a multipurpose programming language for numerical computation. 

The LINPACK and EISPACK projects were responsible for initial development so that they could offer access to the Matrix software they had created. With over 4 million users, MATLAB has become a must-have tool. Advanced engineering and science courses are used as instructional tools. Researchers use it in industries as a development and analysis tool.

MATLAB has features such as built-in editing, debugging tools, and data structure. It has easy-to-use graphic commands and various built-in commands and math functions that enable users to perform mathematical calculations. This software allows users to manipulate matrices, run algorithms, design user interfaces, and visualize multiple functions and data types. It is used for signal processing, image and audio processing, machine learning, and deep learning.

Here are the key features of MATLAB:

  • Feature-rich interface: It is a high-level language that can interface with other languages such as Java and Perl. It provides users with an interactive environment. It provides an environment to run demanding cognitive technologies and computer vision.
  • Data capabilities: It allows users to access data from sources such as images and audio files. It also supports data from video, binary, and telemetry. 
  • Toolboxes: It has a deep learning toolbox that provides simple MATLAB commands used to build and link the layers of a deep neural network. It has a computational biology toolbox that enables biologists to construct and analyze biological models. 

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Pros and cons of MATLAB

MATLAB offers users numerous benefits, making it such an effective tool. It:

  • Is optimized to perform faster matrix operations.
  • Is relatively easy to learn and has a user-friendly interface.
  • Has numerous important inbuilt algorithms that users may require.
  • Combines calculations with visualization, such as graph plots.
  • May be used as a programming language or a calculator.

Further, errors in MATLAB are easy to fix as it is not a compiled language but an interpreted one. It also provides a platform for users to perform symbolic math operations using symbolic manipulation algorithms and tools.

However, there are a few constraints to remember. It is designed for scientific computing and, therefore, unsuitable for other applications. MATLAB as an interpreted language, is slower than other compiled languages such as C++. It is not a general-purpose programming language such as Fortran or C. Users have to create different files for different functions as MATLAB does not allow them to make functions in a single .m file, unlike other programming languages.

Finally, most MATLAB commands lack a direct equivalent in other programming language commands, as those commands are specific to MATLAB use only. This makes your skills non-transferable. Before we discuss how MATLAB works in more detail, here are some software applications that offer similar functionality: 

  • GNU Octave: It has similar compatibility and computational ability to MATLAB.
  • Scalib: It is open-source and identical to the MATLAB implementation.
  • Maxima: It is used for manipulating expressions such as the Taylor series.
  • Julia: It is used to perform analytics on quantitative and computational sciences. 
  • Sage Math: It is used to analyze large data sets. 

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How Does MATLAB Work? 

As a fourth-generation programming language, MATLAB is primarily applied in technical computing. It provides a user-friendly environment that allows them to perform computation, visualization, and programming functions.  

When a program is written on MATLAB, it uses a just-in-time compiler to make the written program fast. Afterward, it assigns mathematical processing jobs to the computer’s central processing unit and optimizes library calls. Thus, it ensures that the program is solved more easily. The following components power MATLAB’s working:

1. The MATLAB Environment

The term “MATLAB environment” refers to the collection of tools and infrastructure made accessible to users on the MATLAB platform. Capabilities to manage variables in the workspace, and facilities to import and export data, are included in this component. Tools for organizing, creating, debugging, and profiling M-files and programs designed with MATLAB are also available in the environment.

A MATLAB environment can be used as an interactive calculator or a programming environment. In calculator mode, the built-in functions, algorithms, and toolboxes of MATLAB provide an all-in-one environment to perform calculations and visualize results using graphical plotting. On the other hand, MATLAB, in programming mode, has an editor, a debugger, and a profiler that enables users to write their functions and scripts. 

2. Windows and panels

When users start MATLAB, a window with several panels appears. This window has a workspace panel, a command window, a current directory panel, and a command history panel. The command window has a command line prompt used to run functions that work on variables. All variables are made and stored in the workspace, where the workspace panel lets users access them easily.

Users can view saved data files on the current directory panel. Users can access the history of all commands that have been executed from the command history panel. Additionally, MATLAB has other window panels that one can access as the need arises. Such windows include a debugger window, an array editor window, and a help browser window. Users can access helpful information about any function or toolbox can be accessed through the command line help function in the help browser.

3. Arrays

On the command line, arrays are built from the ground up. In MATLAB, data is structured into multidimensional arrays. Users can modify arrays through addition or multiplication to achieve different objectives. In addition, individual elements are added, while one can achieve multiplication via matrix multiplication or multiplication of elements.

In calculator mode, you can change the elements of an array by double-clicking on the array’s name in the workspace panel. This opens the array editor, which lets you change the array by hand.

Meanwhile, in programming mode, you can change the elements by making a part of an array on the left-hand side of an assignment statement. Users can delete a row or column by putting it in an empty array. A 0 x 0 matrix is the same as an empty array.

4. Variables

In MATLAB, every variable is an array or a matrix. Variables in the workspace are visible from the workspace panel. Users can also access variables using the who command. The who command displays variables currently in memory, their types, the memory allocated to each variable, and whether they are complex variables or not. Data files are saved in the current directory accessible via the existing directory panel in the format .mat. 

5. Functions and scripts

In MATLAB, functions are used to perform computational tasks. They were created to improve the basic functionalities of MATLAB. They only interact with one another via the arguments that act as the input and output. Functions have their isolated workspace for their variables. In calculator mode, users can write each line of the function one after the other at the command line, execute and copy it, if it works as expected.

A script refers to a file that consists of several sequential lines of MATLAB commands. In the workspace, scripts use variables. Functions and scripts consist of text files with a .m extension. To differentiate functions from scripts in MATLAB, the keyword “function” appears in the first line of the text content, right at the beginning. 

6. N-D Arrays

N-D rays are multidimensional arrays used in MATLAB. Either the fundamental 2-D arrays are extended to generate them, or the arrays are constructed from scratch directly by applying functions such as zeros and ones. Dense arrays have to be represented by N-D arrays since they can’t be stored in the same way as sparse arrays.

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5 Key Functions of MATLAB

A function is a collection of statements that, when combined, carry out a specific job or task. MATLAB functions are specified in separate files, such as script files. One may download MATLAB here. The function’s name and the file’s name must always be comparable.

In general, functions will take in more than one parameter and may return more than one argument after processing those arguments. Variables inside a function’s workspace, known as the local workspace, are subject to the function’s operations. This workspace is distinct from the base workspace, which may be reached using the MATLAB command prompt.

In MATLAB, functions can be created using the below syntax: function [out1,out2, …, outN] = run (in1,in2,in3, …, inN). From this function, “run” is the name of the function that accepts the input arguments in1, in2…inN and returns output out1, out2…outN.

Now let us turn to the five types of MATLAB functions:

1. Primary functions 

Primary functions are usually defined within a file. They are listed first in the function file. Additionally, main functions may be invoked from outside the file in which they are defined, either by additional functions or via the command line.

2. Sub-functions

Sub-functions are similarly defined within a file. Optional sub-functions may appear after primary functions within a file. Unlike major functions, sub-functions can’t be invoked from other functions or the command line outside of the file that specifies them. They are accessible to the principal function and additional sub-functions inside a function file that specifies sub-functions.

3. Nested functions

Nested functions are defined within another function or parent function. A nested function can access and alter the variables declared by its parent function. They are declared inside the context of some other function and have access to the workspace of the parent function. 

4. Anonymous functions

A function is defined in MATLAB with a single statement. It consists of a single MATLAB statement and an unbounded quantity of input and output parameters. One may create anonymous functions at the command line or inside a script or function in MATLAB. This allows users to build essential functions without creating a separate file. Thus, they are not stored in program files.

5. Private functions

Private functions are only accessible to a small subset of other functions. It is a type of primary function that resides in subfolders known as “private.” Users can create private functions to avoid revealing the implementation of a function. Users can’t invoke private functions from the command line or outside their parent folder. The following are examples of essential MATLAB functions:

  • CLC: It clears the command window.
  • Save (“filename,” “vars”): It saves variables to the file.
  • Str1 + str2: It appends strings.
  • Isreal(Z): A complex number determining whether the array is real.
  • Eye(n): It creates a n x n identity matrix.

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Uses of MATLAB

MATLAB is used in several industries, including the automotive, biotech, and pharmaceutical sectors and the electronics, artificial intelligence, robotics, and communication sectors. It is helpful for data scientists, mechanical engineers, machine learning experts, computational finance specialists, and research scientists. The following are the uses of MATLAB:

1. Data analytics

Data analytics involves studying and analyzing data to get valuable insights. Data analytics is usually done with software and tools. MATLAB provides an environment where data scientists, engineers, and IT specialists can effectively analyze data. They can also build big data analytics systems – for instance, for financial analysis. 

Organizations can use MATLAB to perform an economic assessment. It has tools that financial specialists can use to evaluate factors such as profitability, solvency, liquidity, and organizational stability. 

2. Control systems

MATLAB provides a platform where users can easily control whole systems and devices. Users can use MATLAB to create a control system for various industrial systems. The control systems are based on the control loop. Through the control system, users can give commands to the parts of the system, manage them, and regulate their behavior. 

For instance, engineers can create a control system using MATLAB to enable them to control heating systems easily. Additionally, MATLAB has a control system toolbox that allows users to analyze algorithms and apps and design linear control systems.

3. Embedded systems

Embedded systems refer to computer components comprising more than 90% hardware and 10% software. They are designed to perform specific tasks. MATLAB has a unique “push button” feature that generates a code and runs it on the hardware after it is pushed. Examples of embedded systems are microwaves, cameras, and printers.

4. Motor and power control

Motor control algorithms are helpful in the regulation of speed and other performance characteristics of an application. MATLAB algorithms help with precision control, energy efficiency, and system protection. In the development stage, MATLAB can help users reduce the time to develop algorithms and cost-save them before committing to expensive hardware testing.

5. Test and measurements

Testing and measuring electronic products is a standard manufacturing best practice. Electronic products are subjected to various tests during this process to ensure that only quality and standard products are sent to the market. Physical examinations are carried out to identify any material defects, while functional tests are carried out to ensure that the products work as expected. 

MATLAB allows engineers to perform tasks while testing and measuring electronic products. It provides them with the necessary tools and helps them automate tasks. Additionally, they can use MATLAB to perform live visualization and data analysis from the data they collect.

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6. Digital signal processing

Computers and unique digital signal processors perform various signal processing operations in digital signal processing. The MATLAB environment makes it easier for users to use signal processing techniques when analyzing time series data. It also provides a unified workflow for developing streaming applications and embedded systems.

7. Robotics and mechatronics

Robotics is a multidisciplinary field of science and engineering that involves the creation of robots or human-like machines. MATLAB provides an all-in-one environment where robotic researchers and engineers can design robots. They can use MATLAB to create and tune algorithms, generate codes automatically and make real-world model systems.

Mechatronics combines the scientific fields of electronics and mechanical engineering. In mechatronic systems, electrical, mechanical, control, and embedded software subsystems are integrated. MATLAB provides an all-in-one environment where mechatronic engineers can design and simulate all those subsystems.

8. Image processing and computer vision

Image processing focuses on processing raw images to prepare them for other tasks, such as computer vision. In image processing, pixels of images are managed through the modification of matrix values with the help of math techniques. Meanwhile, computer vision involves looking at pictures as the human eye does, then understanding and predicting the visual output.  

MATLAB provides an environment where the vital process of building algorithms and analysis of images can be done. For instance, it includes machine learning algorithms that support applications that enhance pictures by using face beauty and scanning barcodes. Digital image processing is also helpful in transmitting, receiving, and decoding data from satellites.

9. Predictive maintenance

Engineers design predictive maintenance techniques to determine the equipment’s condition to figure out when users must conduct maintenance. MATLAB has a predictive maintenance toolbox that engineers can use to level data, design condition indicators, and estimate the remaining useful life of a machine.

10. Wireless communication

Wireless communication involves connecting two or more devices using a wireless signal. Engineers working in teams can boost productivity by working with MATLAB. With MATLAB, they can reduce development time as they can easily exchange ideas and eliminate design problems early by pointing out overlooked errors. MATLAB also provides streamlined testing and verification of wireless devices.

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MATLAB is indispensable for technical teams working with data operations and user interfaces (UI). It simplifies complex calculations, makes it easy to work out AI and ML algorithms, and facilitates UI simulation and design. MATLAB is also available directly online via your web browser, removing the need to install software locally. Ultimately, MATLAB combines visualization, advanced computation, and programming in an easy-to-use way. 

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