2015 Top Embedded Innovators: Jean Labrosse, Founder, CEO, and President, Micrium
Jean developed the first RTOS kernel that was published with full source code. µC/OS offered a highly portable RTOS kernel that was easily adaptable to any CPU architecture. This transformed the industry because RTOS vendors then started to provide source code with their products. Jean expanded the embedded engineers toolbox by developing µC/Probe, a program that allows run-time data in an embedded system to be displayed or changed through graphical objects, from a Windows-based PC. The user doesn't need to instrument the code in any way in order for µC/Probe to access target data, revolutionizing ease of use. Embedded Computing Design asked Labrosse about addressing the challenges to innovation, how to be an innovator and recognize areas for potential innovation, and what he sees as the next big market and technologies for embedded computing.
What are the largest obstacles to innovation in the embedded space, and how should those challenges be solved?
Unlike the consumer electronics industry, a good portion of the embedded industry is very conservative and can be fairly slow to adopt major changes. We embedded engineers often learn just enough about our tools to do the work. If something worked well enough in the past then we might not explore new ways or use new tools. Sometimes, we have to break old habits, get out of our comfort zone, and try new and different things if we are to adapt to this ever-evolving world we live in. Engineers should be willing to try new approaches, but also be realistic about when to change course if a project isn't going according to plan. The flip side of the coin is that often it takes years for embedded innovations to be recognized and adopted, and even longer to provide ROI. Engineers must be willing to persevere when they truly believe their innovations have value.
How do you stay on the leading edge of innovation, rather than just following the embedded crowd?
I am fortunate to be surrounded by people that understand the embedded industry and believe in the same core principles that I do, yet bring their own expertise to bear. At Micrium, we strongly believe in working with our customers, listening to what they are asking for, and anticipating their needs. Maintaining this direct contact with customers and understanding the issues and challenges that they're facing with their next generation products ultimately drives innovation. The µC/OS-II kernel has stood the test of time because it was developed with engineers in mind, to solve their struggles with real-time operating systems (RTOSs). Maintaining this collaborative approach to software development keeps us on the leading edge of innovation.
How do you recognize when a new technology or application is one your company should invest/innovate in, versus a technology that will experience fast burnout?
In large part, successfully identifying the technologies or applications that will have staying power comes back to listening to our customers and understanding their needs. Engineers face countless challenges in their jobs to develop new solutions, often using new technologies. I founded Micrium as a company of engineers for engineers and we strive to make their jobs easier and more efficient. This means that generally we invest and innovate in technologies that are closest to our core competencies, but always remain open to reaching outside that realm if necessary to solve our customers' problems.
In the next 5 years, which embedded technologies, applications, markets, and geographic areas present the most interesting opportunities?
The embedded industry has a tremendous opportunity right now with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is becoming a reality. Applications and devices are getting highly interconnected – and often deeply embedded – resulting in ever more complex and interdependent solutions. This creates challenges on many levels: power, performance, reliability and security are just a few. One outcome of this is that there will be even more software oversight to ensure that these devices and applications are safe and secure. This means that anything related to making software safer (static analysis, code reviews, memory protection, etc.) will get attention as well as anything related to security (encryption, secure boot, secure firmware updates, etc.).