by November 1, 2008 0 comments

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.

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

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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