I am sure many of you will hear and read, or at least follow up on, some of the papers and developments at the Embedded Systems Conference, April 3 through 7, in San Jose (www.embedded.com/esc/sv). And you should, because embedded systems are not only the fastest-growing segment of the “industry”, but because embedded systems represents an incredibly diverse and, frankly, especially interesting, slice of engineering and design.
Why do I say this? Because even if you are not enthralled with the latest do-everything cell phones, MP3 players, and mass-market consumer gadgets—excuse me, products—that are so prevalent now, embedded systems also represent some very useful products: medical devices, home appliances, vending machines, motor controls, energy-saving smart controllers, are a few examples.
Many of these devices are built in much more modest quantities than their mass-market cousins, and that changes the engineering dynamics, as well. The BOM uses more standard parts, and cost, while a concern, is not as large an “elephant in the room” as it would be for a teenager-focused MP3 player, for example. Instead, performance and operational factors usally count more heavily.
Furthermore, many embedded products represent what I consider the true spirit or ethos of engineering: products which must last for a long time (years and years); can't give users the “blue screen of death” or its equivalent crashed indication; must be supported and supportable for 5, 10, or more years; have relatively simple user interfaces and operating sequences; and generally, do one or just a few things well, and don't try to do more than those. They are focused and optimized, rather than products which do too many things and are, in fact, designed to be downloadable with new code after purchase so as to do even more, even if they don't to it well.
Bill Schweber , Site Editor, Planet Analog