The Embedded Systems Conference looked pretty good this year. It was definitely busier and the word on the floor was more engineers and designers were looking for solutions for real projects. I saw at least a dozen new companies hawking their wares.
I'll try to give a flavor of the show in this article but check out our videos from the show as well as those on Engineering TV. We made so many it will be a while before they are all up but you can see what was on display and hear from the experts from dozens and dozens of companies. That list will be more extensive than what I have here since this is a quick memory dump. We have an extensive list of articles for ESC 2010 as well.
In general, there were a number of trends that continue to grow. One is the up take on modules. Keeping abreast of the latest technology is tough but customers are always clamoring for the more performance. Computer-on-modules (COM) address this well and there a a number of form factors out there. Even peripherals are moving to modules with standards such as FeaturePak.
Another area I'll hit on later is what I call Embedded Cloud Computing. This is a top to bottom solution for linking embedded devices to services that run in the cloud without needing a hoard of IT, embedded programmers, and so on.
There were a couple of neat things at the show as well. Logic and Texas Instruments are delivering a DLP (digital light processing) dev kit. DLP is found in rear projection HDTVs and many projectors. The DLP LightCommander Development Kit looks to make the DLP more accessible to developers.
As you may know, I like debugging and debuggers. IAR's new debugging tool targets power management. You need to see the video on this one. Pretty slick demo and very useful as well.
The following is not an exhaustive list of all I saw. As you can see from this list it was a rather busy show. Again, check out the videos. Almost all my meetings were video taped (ok, they used a hard disk) and will be ready for your viewing pleasure now or very soon there after. The vendor's websites will also have more info although you may have to search the news releases since this is the latest.
Embedded Cloud Computing
I mentioned this earlier and it is one of the more ambitious areas being addressed by companies like Digi and Eurotech. The infrastructure necessary to manage, record and update thousands of devices via the Internet can be mind boggling. It often requires a range of expertise from IT to embedded programming. Embedded cloud computing solutions aim to minimize the required expertise allowing developers to concentrate on their area of expertise be that in the embedded device or on the Internet.
Digi's iDigi is one approach. They have a service that you can contract with for Internet management of embedded devices. Likewise, their array of modules, systems and chip development tools has hooks into iDigi. Customize what you need but a significant amount to be operational with minimal configuration.
Eurotech's approach is more ambitous and potentially more complex. On the Internet side, they have services that can run on cloud computing platforms like those from Amazon. On the device side, they take advantage of their Java-based OSGi framework called Everyware. It is simply a matter of using OSGi Java-based bundles that provide these links. Like iDigi, remote management, updates, etc. are part of the base package.
Boards and Modules
If you get a chance check out Freescale's new Tower development platform (watch video). It uses inexpensive PCI Express connectors on either side of a dev board. These boards highlight Freescale chips of course. There are a number of modules providing peripherals not found on the microcontrollers. Freescale has a number of third party products that work with the Tower including a processor board from Micro/sys with a StackableUSB connection and a Freescale microcontroller. Micro/sys also has peripheral board that also bridges the gap from a conventional Freescale board to StackableUSB. There were a number of other vendors at ESC with StackableUSB boards as well.
VIA Technologies Pico-ITX board continues to gain adherents. VIA was showing off the VIA ARTiGo A1100 that delivers HDMI video. The line of Pico-ITXe boards had stackable add-on boards from companies like AccesIO. These boards employ an SFF-SIG SUMIT connector to bring PCI Express and other interfaces to peripheral boards.
The new FeaturePak Trade Association had a number of members showing off FeaturePak modules. These small DIMM-style modules have hundreds of I/O pins in addition to SPI and PCI Express interfaces for access peripherals on the modules. Diamond Systems had a SFF-SIG SUMIT-ISM board with a FeaturePak socket. There were single board computers (SBCs) with FeaturePak sockets as well.
Speaking of SUMIT-ISM boards, this standard looks to have a few vendors shipping products this year. Versalogic and WinSystems were just two vendors that had SBCs and peripherals that support SUMIT-ISM. SFF-SIG has also added a database on its website to track down products like these.
Wired and Wireless
In addition to its usual crop of lower power micros, Microchip had a range of wireless modules on display. These range from their low power modules that run their MiWi stack to to ZigBee and 802.11g modules.
Synapse Wireless was highlighting their SNAP network operating system. It's a simple gateway that can run Python scripts. They have ported it to more platforms including microcontrollers from Atmel and Silicon Labs. It also had a serial cable replacement that uses SNAP so a serial link can traverse a SNAP mesh network.
Lantronix had all their wired and wireless modules on display including the latest PremierWave EN module. This is designed for high security environments such as medical and financial systems. It supports 802.11abgn (i.e. all the standards).
Safe Programs and Static Code Analysis
Safe and secure programs remain a goal for developers making tools like Adacore's Ada development system remain a significant platform. This includes SPARK, an Ada subset with annotations such as functional contracts. Altran-Praxis provides SPARK support.
Static code analysis is finally edging its way into the regular embedded developer's space where is should be. Grammatech's CodeSonar had a major UI overhaul with a more graphical interface and better integration with third party development tools.
LDRA Tool Suite moved into the life cycle management realm as well. It has partnered with Visure Solutions to bring its support to LDRA's Embed-X. Eclipse-based framework supports compliance with standards such as DO-178 and MISRA and security standards such as CERT C and CWE.
Multicore and Hypervisors Everywhere
Suffice it to say that multicore and hypervisors tended to be mentioned in the same breath. Green Hills Software's Integrity now supports Cavium Networks' Octeon multicore processors in addition to the the latest Core i7 from Intel. Lynuxworks's LynxSecure targets multicore platforms allowing a mix of SMP, processor affinity and multiple, isolated operating systems to share a core.
Express Logic's ThreadX supports multicore as well. Express Logic has enhanced its TraceX trace debugger to handle multiple core debugging. QNX also revealed its latest multicore Neutrino RTOS with new features such as a persistent publish/subscribe service.
Wind River's Network Acceleration Platform looks to take the pain out of writing applications for a multicore network platform. It provides a completely configured and tested platform that includes the hypervisor and operating systems for handling control and data plane applications. This includes the development and debugging tools. Linux handles the control plane. VxWorks handles the data plane.
Of course, there was that little release from Microsoft called Windows Embedded Standard 7. Microsoft had plenty of displays at its booth but what was more significant was the number of vendors that had Windows Embedded Standard 7 running on their x86 boards and systems. It was surprising how quickly vendors are getting up to speed with the latest version.
TenAsys' eVM for Windows brings embedded virtualization to Windows. It allows a guest OS to work with Windows providing transparent communication via virtual network drivers. It can even dedicate a core to the guest in a multicore environment.
More Android, More Debugging
MontaVista already supports Android on smartphones but the next push is Android on other devices such as set top boxes. It is not an area that Google it pushing so developers will need to turn to companies like MontaVista for help. It is not an easy task to take the basic Android platform and use it in other environments. This is why MontaVista developed their rapid deployment program.
I mentioned IAR's new power debugging earlier. The current incarnation takes advantage of the debug and power support of Arm's Cortex-M3. It allows the debugger to track not only the current IP address but also the amount of current being consumed each clock cycle. Very neat stuff.
FPGAs, Storage and Processors
Hard core ARM microcontrollers are invading FPGAs. Actel and Xilinx both have versions on the way. Actel's SmartFusion includes a Cortex-M3 along with a programmable analog subsystem in addition to the FPGA array. Xilinx was also presenting their latest development tool, ISE 12. It has a number of new features but its modularity is key. It is a bit much to cover here but suffice it to say that third party vendors will love it. It makes delivering modules and building systems easier.
There was a lot on hard disk and general flash storage but I'll leave that till an upcoming article. In the meantime, I did check out Datakey Electronic's rugged storage offerings. Very impressive including essentially putting one in a block of ice and then removing it.
Numonyx is now delivering phase change memory. This is one of those game changers. It has the features of flash but without most of its limitations including faster write times. Write lifetimes that haunt flash are not a major issue with this technology.
Also in the nonvolatile realm, Ramtron's MaxArias combines wireless and FRAM. The Gen2 RFID wireless access platform can deliver 4-, 8- and 16-Kbit storage.
That's it for now. Sorry if I missed anything, in particular a lot of boards. These are in the videos and will likely show up in forthcoming coming articles. Hopefully this has given you a feel for the latest from San Jose.