12 embedded electronics industry trends & predictions for 2022...
01 February 2022
With expertise ranging from electronics design through to embedded Linux development, Dunstan Power, Director at embedded electronics consultancy, ByteSnap Design & his team of award-winning engineers have been contemplating the year ahead. Here are their predictions of trends that are most likely to dominate the embedded electronics industry in 2022…
This viewpoint was originally featured as the cover story in the February 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.
1. Chip shortages are likely to ease once ‘panic mode’ calms
Semiconductor shortages will likely continue through most of 2022, starting to ease in Q3. Like many things, from toilet rolls to crisps, people are in panic mode right now, and any supply that begins coming through will be snapped up. Next year will be hard – but there will be easing in 2023, with many manufacturers having stockpiles to get through by then.
Continued chip shortages will lead to greater market opportunities for smaller IC (integrated circuit) manufacturers – and corresponding software development practices designed to easily port designs across heterogenous platforms and architectures.
We will also see the rise of Chinese silicon vendors and their incorporation into Western designs, as they are less impacted than Western companies (partly due to investment, partly US foreign policy under Trump). In a move away from traditional manufacturers, ByteSnap has been asked to use these Chinese silicon vendor chips from time to time for cost benefits, mostly by smaller or start-up companies. No doubt, over time they will be more widely used to fill the gap.
Alternatively, processor manufacturers will come into their own to deal with the shortage in processors from the big brands. Manufacturers will be giving priority to high value parts that are going to high volume designs, while the rest of the industry fights over the remains.
2. Better stock control & a short-term end to just-in-time manufacturing
Chip shortages will precipitate the end of just-in-time manufacturing in the short term for electronics. However, ultimately no one wants to hold stock: it’s costly to purchase and store – and there are risks if it is not used. But currently, it’s a necessary evil. Many companies will introduce better stock control forecasting, ordering for months ahead, but not receiving products until needed.
3. More news coverage as shortages impact consumer space
Ongoing shortages of electronics will ripple through much more into consumer space; up till now, they have been sheltered from it, mostly due to stock holding. But as those stock holdings are used up, expect to see it more and more in the news.
Ultimately, they have already hit the consumer market: graphics cards, new cars, smart home and other IoT devices, gaming consoles and more. So much of what we use in our everyday lives has a microchip in it these days.
4. Innovation impacted with multiple redesigns, delays & increased costs
The industry will continue to be affected by silicon shortages for at least another 12 months – and that will have a negative impact on innovation, as it will be even harder to build prototypes.
Expect lots of redesigns to reduce number of ‘unnecessary’ (or more like unaffordable) features. There is going to be an influx of application ports and redesigns, primarily due to the chip shortage, with products moving to new chip ranges simply to fulfil supply.
5. Software Defined Silicon or SDSi
In early October 2021, Intel posted an update to the Linux kernel mailing list describing “a post-manufacturing mechanism for activating additional silicon features” in their Xeon processors that would later be known as Software Defined Silicon, or SDSi.
SDSi looks set to be a way for Intel (and potentially other processor manufacturers) to activate hardware features after point of sale to customers that pay for it – not unlike how you might upgrade your Netflix subscription to get 4K streaming.
This could have an interesting effect, given the ongoing silicon shortage. Instead of needing to produce several processor SKUs at different performance levels, Intel could now just produce a single, high-spec unit and unlock performance as customers buy upgrade keys.
This naturally means that stock is all available to a single SKU, instead of spread across several, making it easier to get a Xeon processor in your machine – and more importantly, you can then upgrade that processor without needing to physically change anything, or wait for shipping.
6. 2022 will be a transition year
While chip shortages are going to keep impacting and driving the industry over the next year, not much will actually happen, as solutions take time to be established. For instance, new foundries, design paradigms and the like will be moving forward, but likely won’t bear much fruit until 2023 or 2024.
7. Matter (new standard roll out)
The IoT (internet of things) is going to continue to expand as it has been already over the past few years, with big companies developing their own ecosystems, and consumers utilising more and more devices to transform their home into a smart home.
One thing which will boost IoT will be a new home automation connectivity standard called Matter (formerly Project Connected Home over IP or CHIP), which is backed by major players in the industry (including Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung, IKEA, Huawei, Schneider, NXP, Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs and the Zigbee Alliance, now Connectivity Standards Alliance or CSA).
This standard will sit on top of the existing communication protocols that these devices already use, but should allow the different networks to be able to communicate and interoperate in a standard way.
8. Software transparency
There is increasing demand to know the software and services used in apps and devices, both by companies and from the general public.
A business working with a software company might want to know who the developers are. The project development will differ between a private company working together and a team formed from independent freelancers. Knowing how the system was tested builds confidence in its robustness, and how the system is maintained indicates its longevity for risk mitigation.
All of these factors help build trust between developers and vendors, and will therefore favour companies who adopt software transparency in a competitive market.
The era of Big Data has raised privacy concerns among the general public, who are now demanding greater transparency on what services are used in products, including data tracking, information collected on users and how that data is used, stored or sold (hence, the Facebook data privacy scandals). As more devices and applications collect personal and geolocation data, this naturally demands an increase in software transparency, which will gradually become the new standard.
9. RISC-V taking off
A further shift away from Intel architecture CPUs in favour of ARM-64 can be seen across all major platforms: Apple, Windows, Chromebook, Linux. Next, expect RISC-V laptops to soon start appearing.
Nvidia still hasn’t completed its acquisition of Arm Holdings. But when and if it does, expect the RISC-V architecture to really start to take off in response.
Intel, Qualcomm and Microsoft are all working hard to meet Apple’s beast (the M1 chip), but we do not necessarily expect them catch up until 2023 or 2024.
10. Automated deliveries
The rapid growth of urban population creates an increasing need for more efficient delivery systems. Drone delivery systems have been a hot topic for some time, and as this technology advances, the possibility of seeing a commercial drone delivery system becomes more realistic.
Similarly, with self-driving cars already present on our roads, multiple companies have been researching and developing small commercial driverless vehicles for items such as mail, groceries, takeaways and online shopping items.
These automated delivery systems ultimately depend on the electronics design industry to solve the complex sensing, computer vision, communication and connectivity challenges for road safety – and to develop the complex software algorithms needed.
11. Novel applications for Bitcoin & other cryptocurrencies with smart contracts
Smart contracts have started rolling out on Bitcoin’s core protocol layer, and on the Lightning Network, which enables instant transactions.
Smart contracts are digital agreement that live on the blockchain that can be applied to any transaction. The applications are limitless, from paying rent to registering vehicles and more complex supply chain exchanges. Once a set of rules is agreed upon by both parties, it becomes a verifiable and immutable piece of code running on all nodes of the network.
12. Remote Working
Expect a continuation of devices and software emerging to aid working from home – and monitoring of people working from home: smart speakers will step up for conference calls and smart TVs will introduce integration of Teams, Zoom and other collaboration tools.
A related category will be pet-focused monitors, as people who are going back into the office now need solutions to monitor, exercise or remotely feed their pets, since they are no longer at home 24/7.
Technology will help consolidate and enhance opportunities and rights to work from home – thus increasing overall efficiency, lowering carbon footprints and reducing congestion.
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