Five trends in Embedded System Design

13 March 2012

Alistair Winning
Alistair Winning

National Instruments has released its 2012 Embedded Systems Outlook, a paper detailing growth opportunities in the embedded systems market…

Looking at trends in both technology and business processes, the report covers drivers and opportunities in five key areas:

Embedded Platforms
Embedded platforms such as systems-on-chip (SOCs) and systems-on-module (SOMs) include most system hardware in a single package or module. Often these include the three primary elements of an embedded system: a communications interface, processing, and system specific I/O.

Although advancements in SOCs and SOMs are exciting, most fall short of offering a complete embedded platform. In the upcoming decade, software tools will play a more critical role in system design and development.

Embedded design productivity will be driven by tightly integrated software design tools that can use off-the-shelf hardware with a software environment intuitive enough to be used by nearly all engineers and scientists.

Reconfigurable Computing
Over the years, the performance of FPGAs has increased dramatically, with significant reductions in power and cost. The use of FPGAs has expanded from simple glue logic to handling signal processing tasks. A primary benefit of FPGAs for processing is that several algorithms can now run in parallel, unlike the sequential architecture of a processor.
Due to the reconfigurable nature of FPGA circuitry, there are many examples of embedded designs getting deployed sooner by skipping the long lead times associated with making revisions to PCBs.

Mobile Devices and the Cloud
In addition to the ubiquity of connected networks, a primary enabling technology in the mobile revolution is cloud computing. Engineers building embedded control and monitoring systems can provide a specialised and rich user interface that they can access from anywhere.

In the context of embedded measurement and control applications, cloud computing generally provides one of the following benefits: aggregation of data, access to data, and offloading: The near infinite computing resources that are available provide an opportunity for software to offload computationally heavy tasks. For example, National Instruments recently introduced a cloud compile service for NI LabVIEW FPGA where you can offload and parallelise FPGA compilations.

Innovating With Smaller Teams
Smaller, agile companies are emerging around the world and are proving that innovation can happen just as fast, if not faster, in smaller design teams. They are delivering disruptive innovations to market in shorter time periods and with equivalent and in some cases better, quality than their traditional competitors.

An integrated design toolchain can provide a high level of abstraction and productivity to make it possible for engineers and scientists, not trained in traditional software or digital design tools, to participate in larger portions of the system design.

The shift to smaller, more agile development teams will gain stronger momentum over time. Giving the power of innovation to domain experts gives solves problems using low cost structures. Smaller design teams could be a strategic way to achieve differentiation and innovation without compromising quality or profitability.

Future Proofing Through Software
With the ever-changing requirements and standards for embedded systems, design teams are adopting a "software first" mindset for upgrading products over time. Customer expectations for data visibility, connectivity, and performance are increasing. In addition, for most embedded systems, the expectations on longevity of design and service life remain well over a decade.

To address these constraints, many successful embedded developers have adopted a software-first philosophy where software is the first option to address system requirements. This software-first approach can be a huge asset during the design phase, giving designers the ability to more easily take advantage of modern 32-bit processors, rapidly optimise designs for conflicting requirements and reduce time to market. In addition, a software-first philosophy can provide a strategic advantage throughout the life cycle of a product through the capability to future proof designs.

The full outlook report is available online for to download free of charge at

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