Emerging trends in embedded space

Embedded Technology The Road Ahead

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Multi Core Processors

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If it wasn't for embedded technologies, we wouldn't be using our mobile phones for sending and receiving emails, checking word documents, and carrying our presentations on it. If it wasn't for embedded, we wouldn't be listening to theatre quality audio on the move, watching HD movies on a train, and navigating our way on a live map fitted in our car. Embedded tech has completely changed the way we work, live, and enjoy. In this story, we will try to throw some light on future and current trends of this industry covering domains like embedded hardware, software, databases and operating systems.

With the need for efficient processing increasing every day, the major way to increase processing power was to increase frequency. Now as frequency increased from 5MHz to 3GHz, the power consumption increased which resulted in heavy heat dissipation. Then came the intelligent idea of putting multiple processing units on a single chip. Multi-core processors take advantage of relationships between power and frequency, both cores share power and work on same frequency. This gives a very high performance boost. Programming models used by multicore processors at this time are SMP, loosely coupled multiprocessing and AMP. SMP stands for symmetric multiprocessing. In this model, with the help of operating system along with algorithms, dynamic load balancing of tasks submitted for processing is done. In loosely coupled multiprocessing approach that is very popular in cell phone designs, different cores are assigned different tasks. Finally AMP (asymmetric multiprocessing) is a kind of hybrid of above two models in this approach. Some load balancing is done like SMP along with task assignment to cores (like loosely coupled). Greatest advantage of this model for embedded system developer is maximum utilization of resources and scalability.

Embedded Virtualization
The other buzz word at this point in embedded world is virtualization. As we all know virtualization is a means of maximizing resource utilization. For example by vitalizing your server, one can run multiple servers on a single piece of server hardware, this not only saves hardware resources but also power consumption and time. In embedded domain the future of virtualization is in microkernel development. Microkernel is OS kernel that does not provide OS services but provides minimum or only essential mechanism required to implement those services. Here services include address-space management, thread management and inter process communication. Given minimalistic design approach and light weight user space drivers, microkernels are widely deployed and ideal for embedded virtualization.

Mr. Nitin Pai, General Manager, Marketing, Tata Elxsi Ltd.
TATA Elxsi being in this domain from 1989, what changes have you seen in embedded system space over the last decade?
The trend is towards building a heterogeneous core to meet the extreme performance, cost constraints thereby packing more and more complex platforms in a single chip (SoC). Chips customized for specific application and addressing specific product segment e.g. - addressing the networking product market with Network on Chip (NoC) will be popular in the near future. Multicore processors and configurable processors are showing much greater demand in the market. The trend in the CE segment is towards providing portability and mobility to all devices, to the extent possible, through miniaturization and providing wireless interfaces.

With huge mobile penetration in India, are there new technologies and trends that are emerging in this domain?
Multi-featured and multi-utility high-end phones will be in demand in future. Handsets with Media player, Bluetooth, Camera, Touch-screen, expandable memory slots are already very popular today. Mobile TV is touted to be the revolutionary feature, which will drive the mobile handset segment. The most popular trend is towards providing ultimate convergence e.g. multimedia convergence (voice, video & data), network convergence (GSM, CDMA, GPRS, WLAN) and device convergence. The future is also moving towards providing unlimited storage on all the mobile devices. From the multi-utility perspective the mobile phones are also being used as a PDA, navigation device, gaming console etc.

Can you throw some light on how automobile industries increasing demand for more sophisticated embedded systems?
Over 70 Control Loops are being deployed in an advanced Car (Like BMW). This is a well evolved market in US, Japan and Europe. The traction in US, Europe and Japan is to move towards technologies that enable running of multiple applications on single ECUs. The words used to describe these are fusion of applications / sensors etc. AUTOSAR, FlexRay and high power chips will end up as major contributors to this movement. Primary growth driving factors in automotive industry are Active Safety, Environmental considerations and Communication (Car 2 Car, Car 2 Infrastructure, Internet to Car etc). In India, advanced vehicles (Indian) vehicles like Safari Dicor 2.2 and Scorpio mHawk will have at most 10 to 12 ECUs interconnected to deliver all automated applications. Hence the potential for growth is enormous. Cost is a major constraint in Indian market and will take us at least 10 years to see Indian made cars running with 50 ECUs for Indian market.

What are the emerging trends in embedded space as whole?
Demand pull in Embedded space happens mainly from these segments;

  • Consumer Electronics
  • Medical Electronics
  • Automotive Electronics
  • Industrial Robotics Electronics

Programming on Hardware (SoC) will gain more traction along with fusion of multiple applications in to a single core.

System on Chip (SoC) is an integration of computer components on a single chip. It has hardware components along with software components (that controls the microprocessor and peripherals). SoC is everywhere from your mobile phones to portable media players and demand for enhanced functionality of these devices is pushing SoC designers to build more powerful SoCs. Latest SoCs feature CPU running at above 500MHz.

The other advances in embedded domain are in embedded database and search. Embedded database is a software component that is part of the application, not a separate running application. Its operations are invoked by the application. Another way to look at it is that embedded databases are embedded within an application. In networking and telecommunication domain, ATCA (Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture) is future trend. AdvancedTCA is a series of industry standard specifications for the next generation of carrier grade communications equipment.

What lies in future of embedded system are low energy consuming small form factor equipments that can be upgraded with minimum efforts. This is why embedded systems are moving towards open source.

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