BOSTON – Meetings last week with the likes of Allegro Software, Altium, Intrinsyc, Mathworks and Microchip, among others, reminded me that the embedded market is diverse. The best way to face its sometimes chaotic nature is with an open mind and a practical attitude—not a bad life lesson to take away from DESIGN East.
Cellphone chip giant Qualcomm discovered the embedded market was snapping up some of its Snapdragon development boards. “All different types of companies from all over the place,” said Tia Cassett, senior director for business development at Qualcomm. “Since embedded tends to be an inch deep and a mile wide, that’s a challenge,” she said.
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Enter Intrinsyc, which has dedicated a small team to act as shock absorbers for Qualcomm in embedded. The somewhat bumpy opportunity looks good after smartphone partnerships on Windows CE and Symbian fizzled and design work on e-readers for Polymer Vision and Barnes & Noble consolidated into tablet projects taken over by a few other, larger companies.
“We did a lot of work with the Android framework to re-purpose it for the Nook, the first commercially successful Android device,” said Tracy Rees who joined Intrinsyc as chief executive three years ago as part of a turnaround. Now Intrinsyc’s focus turns to custom work on “a lot of vertical devices” like industrial handsets, digital signs and point of sale terminals for Qualcomm, he said.
For now it’s mainly on Android and Linux variants, but “we’d like to support Win CE--I think there is still some demand in industrial handhelds because they have a legacy of apps around Windows built up,” Rees said. “It’s up to Microsoft to regain [the embedded market’s] commitment--Windows desktop and phone OSes have always been the dog, and CE is the tail,” he said.
Like Qualcomm and Microsoft, MathWorks has long known the diversity of the embedded market. “We serve seven tier-one and five tier-two industries,” said Jon Friedman, a marketing manager for the company’s aerospace and defense sectors. Others handle everything from finance to railroads.
The company just released new versions of its core MATLAB and SimuLink products that focused on enhanced user interfaces to ease the job of managing the hundreds of thousands of multi-level models some engineers maintain. One of the next big jobs on the horizon is helping engineers access those models on everything from cloud services to smartphones and tablets.
Meanwhile, the business folks are starting to join the engineers in tapping into those models. “They want to know how to cost these systems, what’s the ROI--these are questions not about the technology, but business,” said Friedman.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.