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In this last ESC show related blog, I will summarize several of the discoveries and themes we saw for embedded hardware products. We had lots of great conversations and observed many product demonstrations and presentations. These four takeaways were some of the most interesting.
Disposable Products: Embedded device manufacturers are looking to provide units that minimize power use when operating and virtually eliminate any use when idle. What is driving this is the idea of products like smoke and/or CO detectors lasting for 10 years or more and then being disposable. This allows the units to use different power sources while eliminating battery clips, and simplifying enclosure designs. If you take it a next step, you could see that some municipalities could ensure that every residence and business would have smoke/CO detector units installed and operational. This would save lives and money.
Microcontrollers (MCU) and Digital Signal Processors (DSP): Embedded computing has gotten a lot more complicated and one place that is representative of this trend is automotive airbag systems. In prior generation designs it was relatively simple in that a MEMs device or some type of impact sensor was connected to an MCU that would in turn trigger the airbag if a well defined set of go/no-go conditions were met. There were several problems that now make this architecture less feasible. Airbags are expensive to replace and, in some cases present dangers of their own. Therefore, you want to be a little more selective about when you want to deploy them. Cars now have multiple airbags and you only want to deploy some of them depending on conditions that might not be a simple MCU driven process. In summary, the airbag trigger process involves more sensors to detect passenger configurations and weights as well as impact sites, directions, magnitudes and whether the vehicle is rolling over. This is why VDC believes that the demand for DSPs in the automotive vertical market will be growing significantly.
Embedded Device Pin counts and Features: During the ESC show we spoke with many embedded controller and processor suppliers and were impressed with the amount of features and capabilities that are increasingly being integrated into these products. By doing so, in many cases it reduces the need for pins that would be needed to connect the device to other devices in a customer’s product. To the embedded device manufacturer this has many possible benefits as it frees up the pins for other functions or eliminates them completely. Another tangible benefit would be reduced cost of test as the reduced pin count might enable more parallel testing. The design engineers at the customer have to be delighted as they have fewer worries about integrating peripherals and supporting devices and now, less demand for space inside the products they are designing. This is truly a win-win proposition.
Embedded Cloud / Microstrain: In their booth, the CEO Steve Arms was demonstrating their Sensor Cloud service. The demonstration was showing real time and archived data collected wirelessly from an array of sensors at a Vermont winery. This is a classic embedded cloud business model of a company setting up cloud services for customers. Agriculture is always a complicated business and the introduction of this type of service should help lower costs to farmers. Now, imagine a second derivative of the cloud data being aggregated and sold to the financial industry to support decisions about crop futures.
In a blog later this week, I will give some thoughts on the embedded cloud business model and the layers of value that can be extracted.