Managing embedded standards

As embedded designs continue to combine highly integrated silicon and smaller platforms with soaring data rates, organizations are scrambling to provide designers the best combination of cost, size, reliability, and performance. Standards must be periodically updated to match the latest technology breakthroughs so that designers will have an ample supply of pre-engineered, off-the-shelf products for new embedded devices.

I recently spent a couple of days at the 2012 Embedded Tech Trends Forum observing this standards management process in action. Experts from industry research organizations and major embedded manufacturers discussed technology trends projected for the next few years and proposed updates to the VITA standards portfolio. Most of the presentations emphasized higher data rates, smaller form factors, lower power, and even optical technology in future generations of embedded systems. You can follow the update process for existing open standards such as , VXS, XMC, FMC, and VME plus new proposed standards at the VITA website, as well as by reading our sister publication, VME and Critical Systems.

In this issue of , we take a look at some of the advanced technology that comprises key components in next-generation embedded systems. For example, in the Silicon section, Craig Greenberg from Texas Instruments describes how an optimized internal clock system is critical to advanced microcontroller performance, including power dissipation, application timing, and internal system accuracy requirements. Craig shows how the clock system must be reconfigured to meet the demands of a wide range of applications, including ultra-low-power energy conservation modes. Targeting high data rate systems, Nabil Damouny of Netronome continues his discussion on coprocessor requirements for x86-based systems supporting next-generation 100G communications architectures. This in-depth, two-part article series covers intelligent Layer 2/3 switching, flow classification, inline security processing, , and load balancing between multiple cores.

Software is another critical and costly element in the move to higher-performance embedded applications, as systems must interact in real time to user inputs, external signals, and the communications channel. A deterministic response is vital in many medical, avionic, and military applications where a missed deadline can result in catastrophic loss of life, injury, or property damage. A commercial Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) is usually at the heart of these complex embedded systems; however, in a surprising number of device designs, developers choose to write their own software.

In my article entitled “Real-time performance: Build or buy,” I cover the reasons designers cite for deciding to write in-house deterministic code, including the high initial and recurring cost of RTOS products, legacy integration, simplified timing requirements, and minimum hardware resources. Supporting the argument for choosing an RTOS, I explore the value of using an off-the-shelf platform, such as the Wind River VxWorks OS and the open-source FreeRTOS project.

In the Strategies section of this issue, experts examine techniques that designers can employ to minimize operational costs. For example, Echelon’s Varun Nagaraj asserts that we must embed energy control networking into every device to achieve the highest level of efficiency in our buildings and factories. Echelon supports the open LonWorks standard for energy control networks, allowing systems in several key energy markets to respond to real-time conditions on the local grid. Mark Buckley and Greg Dixson of Phoenix Contact show how to reduce energy costs in industrial motor control applications with embedded intelligent monitoring and management devices that start motors sequentially and balance the utility power factor. Jim O’Callaghan and Mike Giorgi of the EnOcean Alliance continue the smart energy theme with an interesting article on energy harvesting technology that can enable innovative designs.

Regardless of whether your embedded designs are based on open standards or proprietary technology, your objective is to take advantage of the latest embedded trends to extract maximum performance and outdo your competition. Our objective here at Embedded Computing Design is to uncover and present these embedded trends as they unfold. If you have ideas for future articles and coverage that we could provide to help in your next project, please let us know. Also, if you would like to propose a contributed technical article that would be of interest to fellow designers, please send me an e-mail with a short abstract.