What Is Embedded?

 

So, this has been an exciting week – not only did I get to come back to China & see its amazing continued growth, but I was also able to present some of the new directions we are taking during the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) Beijing 2011. In my role as VP & GM of the Intel Embedded and Communications Group, I get to see a lot of amazing things every day & I was happy to share many of them with the audience at IDF, but it got me thinking: “What is Embedded?”

 

Sometimes that’s a hard question to answer because, in a lot of ways, it is both a concept & a promise. As a concept, it is when the technology is just so deeply embedded into the application, that you almost forget it is there. From an elevator to a microwave oven, if you think about it, you know there are electronics in there receiving your instructions & taking actions, but, when it works well, you don’t think about that aspect. And, ironically, the better the Embedded Application is designed, the less you notice the underlying technology. And that brings us to the second part of embedded: The Promise.

 

But, when we look at the “promise” of Embedded, there is the old promise that you are used to and the new promise(s) that makes the Embedded market space an exhilarating place to be. First, the “old” promise is what you’ve come to take for granted. When you put your popcorn in the microwave & hit the button, you expect it to just work, not to give you some strange, cryptic message like “driver ppcrn_ppr.dll not found.” When you wake up in the morning & go to check Facebook, you just assume your wireless router is humming along, not performing some debilitating maintenance preventing you from connecting to the Internet. At this point, the old promise of Embedded applications is they do what you expect them to do when you tell them to do it. No error messages, no hourglasses twirling, no frozen screens. However, in our modern society, where people can do more with their smart phones today than their desktop computers 15 years ago, there are new promises being expected of embedded applications and that is what Intel is firmly committed to driving over the next decade…

 

Better Experiences

 

The first of these new promises is “Better Experiences” – that is to say, there aren’t just buttons to push, but further attributes to improve the user experiences such as a graphical user interface (GUI) that may adapt to changes in the situation or walk you through a simple wizard to get where you want to go. For example, while GPS navigation as a technology is over a decade old, people don’t just want to know where they are, they want to know both where they are going & what is the best path to get there. They want it to seamless integrate with your address book & your calendar so it knows when you are getting the car at 10:30 – you are probably heading to your doctor’s appointment at 11:00. Plus, people want the system to be aware of the road repair on Main St. & the bad accident on Elm St. so that it directs you down “Carefree Lane” to get to your appointment on time. And that’s just one example – the exciting part is looking forward to see how we can take all “classic technologies” (GPS, microwave, home security systems, etc.) and start to improve them so that the user experiences get better, providing a smarter, more intuitive world for people.

 

Productivity

 

It could be argued that 2 of the most important inventions in history were “The Wheel” and “The Printing Press.” The former helped move more materials faster than ever before and the later helped move more knowledge faster than ever before. In many ways, these 2 things (and subsequent related inventions) combined may have boosted productivity more than anything else. But, there are always more improvements to be done. And that should be a key goal for new Embedded Applications: to boost the productivity of the user. It could be, in the case of the above example of a better navigation system, the ability to avoid getting stuck in a traffic jam. But, as the age of robots begins to emerge, there could be some far more interesting boosts to productivity. For example, how would you like it if you could get a robot that would fold you laundry while you were at work? While it’s true that, right now, the robot really moves glacially slow & can only fold rectangular objects like towels, at least it’s a start. Some folks have started exploring using that same robot to go around & clean up empty soda cans, etc. Again, it is just in the early phases, but promise is bright for a future where a healthy chunk of boring, monotonous tasks may soon be done by your very own robotic helper.

 

Scalable Networks

 

By in large, in order to really fulfill the above two promises, the Embedded Applications of tomorrow are going to need Scalable Networks. Whether it’s an In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) system, or a robotic gardener in your backyard – constant connectivity is crucial to staying on top of the tasks at hand. Many folks of my generation remember starting to download a file over a slow dial-up modem and going to bed expecting it to be completed in the morning only to find out that some glitch happened and you need to start all over again. The same kind of thing cannot happen in the future where you program your robot to go around pulling out weeds only to find some low flying helicopter’s radar disrupted its connection to the “WeedOrNot” database for a moment and stopped only 10 minutes into the job. The network of the future needs to be scalable & adaptable to the environment in question so that it can support the myriad of intelligent connected devices coming in the future. In order for these new embedded applications to truly improve our lives, they need to sense their environment, take necessary actions, and communicate with the outside world. And, without scalable networks, the last, crucial step will not take place.

 

How Can We Help?

 

So, when you put it all together, the future of embedded devices is:

  • They will work when you want them to, reliably, consistently, & dependably
  • They will provide you with better experiences to improve your life
  • They will increase your productivity so you can get the most out of every day
  • They will rely on scalable networks to keep communications flowing smoothly

 

So far, that sounds like a tough task, but we are here to help. In conjunction with my IDF speech, we are launching a new campaign called “Hot Topics” to help explore some of the crucial pillars of embedded technology. The first hot topic will be Security, because, as embedded devices learn more about every little detail of our lives, we absolutely want them to also learn how to keep a secret and keep our privacy safe. As part of our campaign, we will have articles, videos, and blogs about these hot topic for about the next year.

 

With that, I’ll close this blog with one simple request: take a moment & post a comment below. It could be your opinion about this blog, or a suggestion of how we can make your job easier, or just simply say “hello” – let’s start getting the dialog going about making the Embedded space an excite place to be. Thanks!