2005 will bring more complex and powerful embedded systems than ever before. But each advancement will provide a new challenge for embedded systems designers. Here are our predictions for the next year:
Low pin count 32-bit processors to gain market over 8-bit alternatives
There will be a jump from 8-bit processors to higher end, more powerful processors. Atmel and Phillips have recently introduced interesting devices, the AT91SAM7S family and LPC2000 family respectively, that target the 8-bit market with a twistthey have the price point of an 8-bit part, but contain the 32-bit ARM7 core. Their price, large on-chip memory andin some casesexclusion of an external bus interface result in a low pin count, high-performance device being used even when an 8-bit part would meet requirements.
The new 32-bit devices will create an increase in demand for software components, including off-the-shelf real-time operating systems, TCP/IP stacks, and peripheral software drivers. Existing support by vendors such as Rowley Associates, Keil and IAR, along with open source alternatives such as GCC and FreeRTOS.org will expedite the migration.
Continued increase in connectivityBoth wires and wireless
Not a day passes without some story about a new wireless device. If you believe the technology news, 802.11 is the latest and greatest "killer app". However, the underlying reason for the trend isn't the technology as much as it is the convenience. It's just simply convenient to be able to access your data without wires. Reviewing embedded devices from this perspective, there are some wired solutions (using the plug and play architecture) that will thrive in increasing convenience. The two largest players are USB and Firewire. Mainstream embedded devices like portable music devices and computer peripherals have been and will continue to have these connection peripherals. Expect the trend to continue in all embedded devices, including instrumentation, diagnostic, and medical instruments. There is some market data that indicates USB will lead the transition, but in practice I suspect many large companies will implement both USB and 1394 as a way to hedge their bets.
Back to the wireless front, there are still some battles over Bluetooth and 802.11. I believe they will co-exist for some time. After some issues getting out of the starting gate, a new wave of Bluetooth devices was introduced at CES this month. And, as for 802.11, well, just read the news.
The line between hardware and software continues to blurModeling will start to make an entrance.
Complexity in designs will continue to rise. As hardware choices increaseusing an FPGA; mixing traditional processors with DSPs; dual cores; creating custom instructionsand the layers of software get more complex, the level of complexity in a system rises and the line between software and the hardware developer disappears. The design phase will never be the same. It will be increasingly rare to have one team of engineers pulling up the hardware while another team creates the software side independently. More people on development teams will need to understand both hardware and software. This will lead to an increased demand for modeling tools to capture all aspects of the design. Depending on the level of design, MatLab and UML seems to be leading. Don't expect a full blow-out this year, and the "one-click-out-pops-an-application" dream is far from reality, but modeling systems will penetrate more of the design teams this year.
The flow of data through embedded systems will demand increased focus.
The days of writing TCP/IP stacks and RTOSes from the ground up will finally grind to a halt. There are numerous commercial and free solutions available on the market. The focus of a developer will shift from writing the foundational layers of software to an awareness of how data flows through the system. As more devices start to connect with each other and new features are added, the information moving through the system will become integral. Transferring music files, meeting notes, contact information, email addresses in a consistent and easy manner is only part of the picture. An increase in data also means more systems will be sending and storing information for application performance, diagnostics, and recovery. A single device will no longer keep data internal. With embedded devices becoming connected and communicating with each other, a chaotic web of devices will be created. And, within this web of devices, the sharing of data will be the new obstacle to overcome for developers.
About the Authors
M. Kyle Craig is a marketing and strategy specialist focusing on the embedded industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Barry is the author and primary maintainer of FreeRTOS.org, an increasingly popular open source mini real time kernel targeted primarily at small embedded systems. It is freely available for download and use-even in commercial applications (refer to the license conditions). Full source code and documentation can be found on the FreeRTOS.org
homepage. Contact Richard via the FreeRTOS.org Web site contact page