Embedded Design Trends

I’ve written here previously on being truly engaged with our profession; one engagement opportunity is keeping an eye on trends in embedded systems development. EE Times conducts an annual survey of embedded market trends, and they recently published this year’s results:

Slideshow: 10 Embedded Design Trends

The 2014 survey marks some interesting shifts in embedded systems markets, and keeps with the AppliedLogix team’s experiences and observations over the last year:

  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Android are hot – With more and more end-users carrying smartphones and tablets, we’ve observed increased interest in leveraging these mobile devices for the rich user interfaces, remote-access and notification capabilities they can provide. Mirroring the trend EE Times observed, AppliedLogix has seen increased demand for networkable embedded devices, and mobile application development to match.
  • Rise of the 32-bit MCUs – If you get the sense that the embedded industry is rallying around 32-bit microcontrollers, you’d be right – constantly setting performance-per-dollar records, these little 32-bit powerhouses are steadily eating their 8- and 16-bit cousins’ market share (though Greg Robinson of Microchip still (rightly) sees a place for 8-bit). Driven by the ARM Cortex ecosystem’s rapid adoption by Silicon vendors, interoperability and breadth of tools, we’ve been seeing the new crop of 32-bit parts enable microcontroller-based functions previously only achievable with DSPs.
  • Multiprocessing – While multi-core micros still strike many embedded control developers as somewhat exotic, dropping multiple MCUs into a design is becoming increasingly common. We’ve seen this trend too, but it’s not without complications. Inter-processor communications, firmware updates and debugging all get more complex when an architecture includes multiple controllers – but this complexity can be worth adding when self-checking, hardware diversity or redundant communication channels are required for functional safety.

Not all the news in the EE Times Embedded Trends survey is welcome, however: the industry overall has done little to improve the rates of late and canceled projects. On-time projects have slipped from an unimpressive 4-in-10 down to 37% for 2014. Since founding AppliedLogix in 2006, we’ve incorporated various project management tools and techniques to help meet tight schedules. We’re especially proud of the on-time delivery of our most recent project, an aggressive 8-week controller development program that included custom hardware, firmware and PC software.

About the Author:

David Rea is an AppliedLogix senior engineer and partner. He serves as the firm's engineering practice leader for Fuel Cell and Energy applications. He holds degrees in Electrical Engineering (BS) and Software Engineering (MS) from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

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