IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

Hot Dog Theory for Embedded Systems

With summer quickly drawing to a close and Labor Day barbeques just around the corner, I thought a staple of American cuisine deserved a momentary spotlight: The Hot Dog. Whether you prefer them with mustard, ketchup, relish or onions, just about everyone seems to have a special place in their hearts for hot dogs.

This fondness for franks, however, does not come without a certain degree trust and a leap of faith. Although we may know if our hot dog is of beef, pork or poultry origin, no one really knows – or wants to know – what cow, pig, or bird parts made their way into the casing. Unfortunately, the more research we conduct examining the inner workings of the embedded system engineering organizations, the more I feel the same way about them.

All too often, engineering organizations are ignoring best practices for safe and secure system development. In many cases, they are hamstrung by incumbent processes or blinded by short term time-to-market goals or just lack the requisite level of internal formal engineering rigor. What is worse is that this general assessment is fairly consistent across the different vertical markets that we cover – from consumer electronics to medical devices to avionics and everything in between:

Many embedded industries, however, do have development process and quality standards in place. Unfortunately, these guidelines and checks are (pragmatically) somewhat high level and clearly stop short of ensuring functionality in all cases. The growth in complexity of today’s systems (e.g. cars with > 100MM LOC) will undoubtedly make quality problems worse before they get better. Engineering organizations need to take it upon themselves to revisit their incumbent development practices and tools to help move the industry forward.

Certainly, one can argue that many of these problems are not new, just the amount of publicity they receive. That said, it is clear that current development practices are not cutting it and that change is required. In the absence of significant change – as the pressure and engineering challenges facing OEMs continue to mount – we should be even more wary of what is inside the electronic systems that are part of our everyday lives.

Ignorance is bliss.


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