Five technologies you need to know about -

Five technologies you need to know about


An article on TechWeb tries to prognosticate into the near future about technologies thatwill affect “every technophile.” The list:

  Ajax (used for Web authoring)
  Core: Intel's next generation CPU
  Holographic storage
  NAND flash drives (which will apparently replace hard disks)
  AMD-V and VT, which allows a single desktop CPU to run multipleinstances of operating systems

Sweet. Yet none of those will impact the embedded systems worldanytime soon. Intel did make a big push for multi-core CPUs forembedded apps at the latest Embedded Systems Conference, but I justdon't see that happening in any significant way for a long time tocome. Their low-end CoreDuo CPU gobbles 15 watts at about 1 volt; the others suck 31 watts.

That's almost 30 amps, which will drain an AA in a jiffy.Applications connected to the limitless power from a wall socket willhave a significant cooling problem. Here in Maryland electric rateswill go up 72% in July so consumers may soon start making buyingdecision at least partly based on power consumption.

Ajax, holographic storage and AMD's Virtualization technology hadexactly zero presence at the embedded show. Certainly flash technologyis important to us, but not, as yet, as a hard disk replacement for anybut the most extreme embedded apps. Flash won't be a suitable diskreplacement till costs tumble, yet this week Samsung and Hynix both raisedtheir prices for NAND flash.

About 100 CPUs go into embedded systems for every desktop processorshipped. The computer business is, for all intents and purposes, theembedded market. Yet it's a stealth business; prognosticators only seethe web and the insatiable craving for more PC performance.

It is fun to project ahead a few years; here are some technologiesand practices that I think will be important to embedded developers.

FPGA hardware and software .Programmable devices continue to offer more capacity per dollar. Thisplethora of cheap transistors means manufacturers are adding both hardand soft CPU cores to their offerings. Third party vendors will sellhuge amounts of IP. New tools will result in a new kind of embeddeddesign that unifies hardware and software engineering ” to some extent,at least. Compilers will translate C to hardware and hardware tosoftware to best optimize each application's performance. Alteraalready has this technology.

The open source movement will continue to grow, of course, but with the release of GPL 3.0 abusiness-driven backlash will spawn new licensing arrangements. GPL3.0, though still in draft form, is creating considerable controversydue to its strong stand on DRM and patents.

Without getting into the debate about software patents, companieswill continue to view these as important assets. The recording andmovie industries will fill politicians' purses with campaigncontributions to require hardware DRM enforcement in home entertainmentdevices. Licenses more generous than GPL 3.0 or even 2.0 willproliferate to satisfy business needs to use OSS while protectingproprietary code. An extant example is that for eCos).

Demand will continue to increase for lower-power processors and systems .More exotic sleep and current reduction modes will appear. Intel andAMD will continue to push power-hungry chips into fewer and fewer nicheapps while most developers manage nanowatts. New analysis tools willhelp identify code chunks that can be optimized to save watt-hours.Many small systems will scavenge power from the environment.

Mesh networking will finallytake off, enabled by these scavenging systems. Wires for connectivityand power will seem quaint as users scatter systems like high-techJohnny Appleseeds.

That's four predictions. What's your fifth?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embeddeddevelopment issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helpscompanies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .

I think the fifth technology is distributed processing. More products are being made with multiple processors and more products are talking to other products. Both these trends will increase the need to write distributed applications, both inside the box and between boxes.

– Dominic Herity

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