With 850 exhibitors and 26,688 visitors in Nuremberg, Embedded World is the world's largest trade show dedicated to the embedded market, so it's a natural place to see the industry trends from hardware to software.
The Internet of Things
The IoT is reaching hype proportions, and anything that is connected is now part of the IoT, at least on PowerPoint. But there are some real steps forwards. Microcontrollers are now adding enough memory to support both the wireless links and the applications code for sensor nodes, reducing costs and complexity. And there are secure boot loaders and firmware to start to tackle the security of the link form the sensor to the cloud.
How all this is controlled is still up in the air (or the cloud). Cloud services are one way, and these are evolving. Bluetooth is also emerging as a contender for IoT networking and control with versions 4.0 and 4.1 of Bluetooth Smart, using a smartphone as a local controller. This means CSR in Cambridge now becomes a very interesting player in the embedded microcontroller space.
Big.LITTLE or small.LARGE
Reinventing VxWorks for the Internet of Things with a 20Kbyte microkernel was a key step for Wind River, but there are several subtleties that point to new directions. Firstly, Wind River aims to support two architectures initially ARM and Intel. This is interesting, as Intel doesn't have processors for the edge of the IoT yet. What it does have, as we saw in January, is a chip with a microcontroller and a microprocessor both using the Quark core. This small and large heterogeneous architecture (and they make sure not to call it big.LITTLE) is becoming increasingly popular in medical and telecoms applications, says Wind River, and the small core will run the microkernel with full VxWorks on the other. This is a key trend to watch in several markets.
Virtualization of microcontrollers
Imaginations M class microcontroller cores are the first to support virtualization, but ARM is not far behind with its Cortex-R architecture. The key here is the software, and Green Hills Software has been peering under the hood of both to make sure its INTEGRITY real-time operating system works on these. The message is clear adding virtualization is possible, and desirable, even at the microcontroller level for security and reliability. ARM then sees the possibility of running an RTOS and Linux (see below) on the same $3 Cortex-R chip with a bare metal hypervisor, winning one of the Embedded World awards. Still, it does help if the original architect of the ARM 30 years ago is one of the judges.
We're all going to be Linux developers
Or we will be if board makers have their way. The trials and tribulations of bringing a board up could well be on the way out as the Yocto distribution of Linux for embedded applications gains momentum. Running the same applications across multiple different boards with multiple different chip architectures will make life a lot easier for developers but will commoditize those boards and devices. Good for the system makers, but the chip and board makers will be looking elsewhere to create value. What was notable was less emphasis on Android as an embedded operating system, perhaps suffering from the same fragmentation that Yocto Linux is tackling.
Just when you thought things couldn't get any smaller, congatec cuts the size of a COM Express board in half. The reducing power envelope of standard processors down to 3W now helps support this credit card sized Class 10 board. Pico-ITX boards from congatec, Kontron, and VIA all fit more and more into less and less space.
This article was origonally published on EE Times Europe.