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The Invisible Computers in Our Lives

Ganesh Moorthy knows firsthand how much embedded computing permeates our lives. As chief operating officer of {complink 3413|Microchip Technology Inc.}, Moorthy is focused on innovations that continue to place technology at the core of human interaction. But he also knows how much more opportunity there is for further human-technology interactions if we increase our use of microcontrollers.

At the recent Semico Summit, Moorthy talked about several applications that utilize sensors and intelligence and have enabled the development of products that are adaptable, offer more security, simplified user experience, improved energy efficiency, and more.

Among these are applications used in the automotive, lighting, thermostats, and appliances markets. There are also new applications for microcontrollers providing support management in personal computing, datacenters, handsets, asset tracking and management, and personal medical equipment. Embedded computing is found throughout various applications within the smart power grid.

Moorthy cited several innovation enablers, including the following:

  • More integrated features and lower cost
  • Higher performance and lower power
  • Smaller size
  • Wired and wireless connectivity
  • High quality, low cost graphics
  • Touch — buttons, sliders, and screens
  • Energy efficiency building blocks

Chip vendors need to invest in customer support and engineering, including software developers. There are more software engineers than hardware engineers involved in the development of MCUs. A chip vendor cannot just produce silicon — it must also help system designers with tools and expertise. Today's applications are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Moorthy. There are many more innovations yet to come.

12 comments on “The Invisible Computers in Our Lives

  1. AnalyzeThis
    May 16, 2011

    Tony, I agree that chip vendors need to do more than just produce silicon these days.

    And it's clearly obvious that embedded computing will only continue to grow, I'm sure 5-10 years from now having these things integrated into our cars and appliances will be so commonplace that nobody will even really stop to think about it.

    And of course as you also mention, more innovation is yet to come! It'll be interesting to see what develops.

  2. Nemos
    May 16, 2011

    Embedded computing has a great future because a lot of new products come with electronic features from coffee machines to mobile phones. The need of having interactive devices creates the demand for embedded systems. However, the “great future” we don't have seen it yet. We will reach it when we will see the embedded systems to have similar hardware as the computers and the only different will be in the program that will run.

  3. eemom
    May 16, 2011

    I agree on all fronts.  As the form factor of designs decline and fabs advance, companies need to work with developers of verification tools to insure a shorter design cycle.  As more electronics get embedded in most every day appliances and devices, the need quick and accurate turn around and manufacturing will be paramount.

  4. Kunmi
    May 17, 2011

    The global community is going electronic. Many things are being computerized, robotic systems in healthcare, auto industry, homes and many others are basically using the computer technology. These are just the begining of the unknown sophisticated era to come. Innovations and thought process of the scientists are getting deeper everyday, new ideas are errupting and this will give room for more embedded computing system that is capable of ruling the world population. You can imagine the trend of computer technology: from desktop to laptob, tablets, phones and the applications; what an enormous bunch of knowledge within the last 30 years. At times it is scary to think of what technology will bring into our world in the next 20 years.

  5. saranyatil
    May 17, 2011

    Today tomorrow all our lifes are going to be with electronics directly or indirectly supported by software to it. With loads of additions on features etc Each MCU in the device will act as an SOC.

     

  6. jbond
    May 17, 2011

    It is going to be interesting to see what the future brings with the continued innovation of electronics. We are starting to see more and more of these imbedded computers and components in our daily lives, with many people not even realizing what is actually taking place inside. If the chip vendors invest more in customer support and engineering, they can help their own bottom lines while also helping others in developing the next great feature that we all take for granted.

  7. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 17, 2011

    Agreed!, that today there are more software engineers working on the silicon development than the hardware engineers. But all these software engineers are working on building the development tools, simulations, test code generators, validation software and so on. The basic architecture of an MCU or an MPU has still remained the same. For embeeded applications the programmers have to still start from the scratch – get the appropriate input sensors, get the right interface hardware, write drivers for those sensors , write software algorithms to generate output for the actuators and after all these mundane tasks  done, then finally implement the actual applications.

    Why not migrate to a generation of processors specially made for embedded applications where these mundane functions are carried out by the hardware. The so called configurable chips of today are also not doing these functions . A true revolution in Embedded systems can occur when many of these basic functinalities happen in the hardware and not in the software. A joint effort is needed by the teams of hardware/software engineers to generate such configurable bulding blocks built into the MCUs. Many millions of lines of code writing , related testing, bug fixing can be saved if this happens.

  8. tioluwa
    May 17, 2011

    From the point of view of an Embedded systems Design engineer (not to mention one with a great penchant for the microchip series), i cannot agree more with Moorthy

    The possibilities are endless really.

    I work in a metering firm, and we have seen how MCUs are taking metering to the next level. wireless meets smartmetering.

    GPRS/GSM is being used via MCUs for remote reading, recharge, even customers get to communicate with their home via their mobile phone.

    I am looking forward to what the future holds, even though i'm still yet to explore all the present possibilities.

    Sometimes i wonder who is ahead, is it the chip makers coming up with new ideas, or the designers forcing the chip makers to come up with new things to suit design applications.

    However, Moorthy is painting a picture where the chip manufacturers are breaking the grounds and giving designers more inovative options to explore.

  9. Wale Bakare
    May 17, 2011

    Excellent article by Tony. Future is very bright for embedded computing field. Virtually every object goes embed with MCU or MPU. Today, you are probably unaware that an appliance contains a computer.

    Electronic device incorporates a computer – a microprocessor to simplifies the system design to provide flexibility. In addition, 99% of all microprocessor production is of processors for embedded systems. And besides, 40 -50 embedded processors in the home. 

    Absolutely true that most embedded computing professionals are software designers. Embedded hardware designer are not common or not trained/groomed to be.

  10. mario8a
    May 17, 2011

     

    Hello

    currently the technology is moving faster, however with the communcation channes might be possible the access to the technology advances in the daily basis, embedded circuits will represent a significant changes for the PCBA houses and many improvements on SMT processes.

    However in terms of invisible computers will have to learn from our friends in Japan, if you have a chance search for a video named “a world of glass” very interesting advances in technology are showed in that video.

     

    Best Regards.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  11. Mydesign
    May 18, 2011

         Tony you are right, it’s our duty to find out suitable applications for developing the chips. That means engineers have to come up with creativity and new application levels. When more appliances going to auto control or smarter, more devices can be incorporated. Now a days instead of physical components, developers are preferred for soft components by programming to maintain the functionality.

  12. Wale Bakare
    May 18, 2011

    prabhakar_deosthali,

    I share from your add-ons. Just for instance  in UK, universities that teach embedded system technology –  up to 90% of the them train students to be embedded software engineers. Main modules of embedded systems were designed for students to develop applications for embedded systems, mostly in cross-development environment ( Windows OS and Linux platform).

    And also, students may be busy 1)developing applications software 2) modelling – either formal method of verifications or others 3) simulation 4) testing and verification 5) implementation. 

    Lastly,  students only given instruction set handbook to digest and download applications to the target devices. Target devices – hardware, most lecturers do not teach students how to design embedded in hardware. As a result of this 99.9999% of graduates in embedded computer systems end up to become EMBEDDED SOFTWARE ENGINEERS IN MARKET PLACES

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