The complexity of modern embedded systems can overwhelm users with the intimate minutia of control. But inside every complex system is a simple concept struggling to get out. Too often those simple concepts are crushed below layers of unnecessary control presented by improperly implemented technology driven solutions.
The solution to this morass of pseudo-control is a compelling user experience.
People’s speech patterns can tell you how to construct a compelling experience. Phrases like “I feel, “I see”, and “I hear” provide guideposts to building the right user experience. But building a compelling user experience depends not only on the developers’ ability to tease out the essential bits necessary to use an embedded system, but also on the underlying tools provided by the embedded hardware and software.
The Intel® Architecture, and the Atom™ family of processors in particular, offers a wide continuum of processing power for embedded systems and their associated User Interface (UI) designs. Much of the recent attention to the User Interface has been focused on PCs and Notebook PCs. The greater processing power and higher integration of Atom-based processors moves the bar for embedded UI and the user experience. For example, the E6xx processor increases the amount of video and graphics processing done on-chip (including video CODEC) in dedicated hardware which reduces memory requirements and power consumption. Now deeply embedded applications can provide user experiences like those found on a desktop computer but within the limitations of an embedded application. We’ll examine how the UI can reduce task loading and present visualization Open Source software alternatives.
Overwhelming visual task loading is a problem of vital importance to military and commercial large body aircraft. The solution to too much data lies in determining which data is really needed during steady-state operation, and then employing visualization techniques to present the information in a useful and understandable form. Both military and commercial systems reduce the amount of information presented to pilots by using visual techniques combined with automated limit-alarms that only present information when there’s a problem. For example, The Boeing Company’s 777 uses multiple video displays to reduce the “ordinary” information presented to pilots. Information reduction is achieved by employing an ARINC data bus linked to the main and standby navigation systems, Terrain Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), Global Positioning System (GPS), and color weather radar. Such systems replace dozens and perhaps hundreds of panel meters with a small number of video displays.
Data visualization has made the transfer from lab to commercial use in a wide array of embedded applications from medical instrumentation and industrial controls to consumer cellular telephones. Open Data eXplorer is an Open Source software package targeted at the Microsoft® Windows™ (1) Operating System (OS). The Graphical User Interface(GUI) has a wide variety of what the software project calls “interactors.” Direct interactors allow users to directly manipulate images in realtime on the screen, such as image rotate or zoom. Indirect interactors include dials, switches, buttons, and sliders, and enable users to control various aspects of the visualization. Interactors are data-driven, auto-ranging and self-limiting. They examine your data and, depending on its type, will determine the minimum and maximum of the data, or create a list for an option menu based on your data. You can even set the label of the interactor based on metadata.
While OpenDX focuses functions and controls on relatively static visualization, the Opensource website has a remarkable display of how full motion video can be used to create a stunning user experience – called Gource. In this example, the large-scale dataset that needs to be presented in an easier-to-understand format comes from software development. But the same principles can be applied to any embedded system that deals with presenting vast quantities of data. Gource is a visualization tool used to analyze event driven data. Although the example system uses data from program development, similar techniques are finding uses in vehicle traffic systems, Internet TCP/IP network traffic analyzers, and telephone switching systems.
Advanced Visualization has also been used by Michael Ogawa at The University of California Davis to understand the interpersonal communications of workers in an organically expanding work team. The sample data set used by Ogawa came from development data for the Eclipse framework. The Eclipse framework is used by Intel, Green Hills Software (2) and Wind River Systems (3) development tools for embedded processors like the Atom™ processor family.
Boeing’s flight deck system reduces realtime task loading for pilots. The visualization results of Gource can reduce thousands of pages of data into a full motion video that only takes minutes to watch. We’ve seen how more graphics capabilities can improve the User Experience by reducing complexity and task loading.
Likewise, audio cues can be used to reduce information to easily recognizable sounds. The sense of touch can also be added to embedded systems by designing-in a touch screen display.
Members of the Intel Atom family are used by board vendors to create a variety of specific applications-focused modules. Some of these board vendors include:
- ADI Enigneering (4)http://www.adiengineering.com/php-bin/ecomm4/productDisplay.php?category_id=25&product_id=95
- Advantech (5) http://www.advantech.com/
- Axiomtek Co. Ltd. (6) http://www.axiomtek.com
- Kontron (7) http://us.kontron.com
- Portwell (8) http://www.portwell.com.tw
Other companies discussed in a recent blog by Maury Wright provide a range of Atom-based boards.
Newer members of the Atom family such as the E6xx series of processors add more capability to the basic processor. One of those capabilities is integrated graphics support. The intensive graphics support can be used by other experimental visualization systems like SAGE <img http://www.sagecommons.org/> SAGE is an ambitious project aimed at permitting geographically distributed users to share applications, data, and a tiled video wall. Data objects like realtime, streaming, full motion video are critical to the systems functioning – making a shared virtual lab.
The SAGE situation room (image from UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory) provides a glimpse of where user experience is heading.
1. Microsoft® Corporation is an Associate member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
2. Green Hills Software is an Affiliate member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
3. Wind River Systems an Associate member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
4. ADI Enigneering is an Associate member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
5. Advantech is a Premier member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
6. Axiomtek Co. Ltd. is an Associate member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
7. Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
8. Portwell is an Associate member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)
Intel® Embedded Alliance