Getting rich while doing good -

Getting rich while doing good

$72 a barrel. That’s the price of oil as I write this, with some pundits predicting numbers approaching $90 in the very near future.

Jeez. When I was a teenager gas cost $0.30 a gallon. More than a few penurious times I bought a quarter’s worth, enough to drive around for a day or two. Today big cars can eat most of a C-note on a single fill up.

Nationwide the price of natural gas has doubled in the last three years, with the price curve still headed steeply upwards.

Here in Maryland electricity’s rates have been held artificially low for years. That ends in July, when costs are expected to go up 72%.

Conventional solutions to our energy woes – like building more power plants – have been stymied by NIMBYism and political strife. Yet even Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, now supports nuclear power. A proposal to build a wind power farm off the New England coast is opposed by many on a variety of grounds.

It’s worth a trip to Denmark to see the profusion of windmills. That country produces a significant fraction of their power using these eco-friendly generators. I recently walked to the base of one, and was surprised to hear merely a low mechanical hum from it, counter-pointed every few seconds by a soft whooshing sound as a giant blade swung by. Meanwhile it was cranking out megawatts of clean energy.

For years the concept of alternative forms of energy and conservation were mostly the province of the eco-fringe. But capitalism is a powerful force. Expensive energy makes Wall Street’s stolid three piece suits pay attention to business proposals that can make money off tighter supplies.

Now AP reports that venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers are prepared to invest $100 million in green businesses. These VCs are hardly starry-eyed tree huggers; they’re making serious bets that being green will make big bucks.

And I think the embedded space is poised to make the biggest contribution to this effort.

Today’s hybrid cars, some of which use half the gas of conventional vehicles, couldn’t exist without a tremendous amount of compute power. Toyota’s Prius, and the other cars that use their licensed Hybrid Synergy Drive, employ a network of 32 bit processors.

Think about that: a few square millimeters of silicon saving untold barrels of gasoline. Talk about leverage!

The developing world is demanding more. More power. More clean water. More transportation. All of that will be enabled by the technology we build.

I think the embedded revolution has hardly started. In the not-too-distant future a few pennies worth of chips will control everything from light switches to smart window shades. Every power cord will use a microprocessor to manage electron flow. Excessively smart toilets, plumbing fixtures and maybe even the pipes will use CPUs to dispense water more frugally. Roadway instrumentation will minimize gridlock.

That’s the obvious stuff. Venture capitalists will fund companies inventing technologies we can’t anticipate; some of those will impact our lives and our environment in very positive ways. All will fundamentally rely on embedded systems.

The Dow’s 30 giant economy-drivers will no doubt continue to thrive. But the new, VC-funded green startups will make a ton of money.

What do you think? Will the greening of corporate American be good for embedded developers?

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


It appears to me that all, if not most technologies already benefit from embedded technologies…As proof; just look at the depth and breadth of the last ESC show in San Jose.

Anyway; you are quite right that 'Green' technologies will be a major consumer of embedded. This is because any technology that requires any level of control/monitoring sophistication will automatically need some level of embedded deployment.

– Ken Wada

I think green is the future. Here in Arizona, our heating bill is NULL, while paying for our indoor refrigeration is costly! Speaking of going green, here is a company in Las Vegas that has a great product. Visit Hydrogen Solar at

to see their Tandem Cell which converts sunlight and H2O directly into H2.

If we go into a hydrogen based economy, I could see this area (Arizona/Nevada) being a major supplier of hydrogen.

Currently “a system on a home's garage roof that is 10 percent efficient could provide enough hydrogen for a fuel-cell car to drive 11,000 miles per year”. And right now they're making more efficient cells.

– Steve King

Once again there is a but in this revolution of green electronics. The manufacturing technology required to make these modern wonders leaves an ecological footprint equivivalent to godzilla. Modern microelectronics is the worst kind of waste there is and their lifespan gets shorter every year. Before organic semiconductors emerge no electronic engineer can claim to make planet cleaner. Automotive and computer industry are prime examples how their products are cleaner and more environment friendly and recycable than ever. My -79 old car haven't produce any industrial waste except tyres since it's date of manufacturing. Modern day car is kept approx five years. It is non repairable after the electronics start to fail and those I'm forced to buy one in every five years because 'green' legislation. Which one is the more 'environment friedly' the car which runs for 40 years using traditional fuel or in the future alcohol or this hybrid wonder useable for five to ten years?

Intentions are good but don't get fooled by marketing folks and lobbyists…

– Jussi Vänskä

I seriously doubt that a car built in 1979 doesn't pollute in terms of emissions quite a bit more than current cars. The stell and metals in a car can be recycled, but the pollution from an old car will be with us for a long time.

– Robert Kits van Heyningen

I honestly don't think embedded technology is a solution for everything. Using a chip to micro manage every life process tends to look like a bandaid solution.

The more embedded controllers you add, the more points of failure you introduce into a system. A toilet is an excellent example and I'm glad you brought it up. Mechanically it is a very fail-safe system. But as soon as you make it 'smart', a CPU crash means I may no longer be able to go to the bathroom! Don't tell me I can fix an embedded controller problem with a toilet plunger!

>>> The developing world is demanding more. More power. More clean water. More transportation. All of that will be enabled by the technology we build.

It may sound facetious but the obvious solution is to consume less. Why drive a car when public transit or bicycle will do? Why drive an SUV when a compact 4 cylinder car will do? Why do we need 2,400 sq feet homes when a generation ago, a 1,200 sq ft home was the norm for a family of four?

Unfortunately technology isn't going to solve our biggest problem – greed.

– Tiger Joe Sallmen

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