Embedded systems: VDC highlights of 2009 ESC

Vendors are increasing depth, breadth of application support available to customers. See product highlights, pictures.


Despite this year’s murky global economic outlook, the 20thEmbedded System Conference in San Jose in early April 2009 appeared to be moderately well attended on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a substantial number of exhibitors, fair floor traffic, and a cautiously optimistic murmur emanating from attendees on the floor. So says this report from Venture Development Corp. VDC reported that multi-core, virtualization, security, small form factors, and application-specific support for customers continued to be strong themes among embedded systems providers.

A clear theme with embedded vendors — from processor vendors to board and systems vendors to software vendors — was increasing the depth and breadth of application support that they are making available to their customers, said VDC. This often is in the form of off-the-shelf packages, be they application-specific development boards or software tool kits. There appears to be a number of strong correlations between the increase in supplier support for application-specific solutions and customer focus on multi-faceted cost reduction and time-to-market compression, said the report.

In keeping with the show’s overriding theme of increasing application-specific support to take out cost, VDC named Xilinx “best of show.” Xilinx was showcasing its targeted design platforms being offered in support of its new Virtex-6 and Spartan-6 FPGAs announced in February of this year. These pre-packaged integration packages, each focused on a specific application, integrate design tools, development boards, IP cores, and software that will be used around the FPGA in specific applications. The goal of these platforms is to lower development costs for customers by freeing their own designers from many of the mundane tasks of building a systems infrastructure.

VDC’s choice for “best of show– runner up” was CPU Tech , a new exhibitor of embedded processors with an already long history in the military/aerospace market. CPU Tech is bringing secure processors to all verticals of the embedded market with its Acalis line of secure processors. These directly address the need for anti-tamper (AT) technology in critical computing and communications systems, as Acalis protects algorithms, rules and data from cloning, malicious insertion and countermeasures.

Other notable products at the show include:

Microchip announced an AC/DC reference design based on the new dsPIC33F “GS” series of digital-power digital signal controllers (DSCs). This reference design demonstrates how digital-power techniques are applied to reduce component count, lower product cost, eliminate oversized components, and incorporate topology flexibility to innovate the best solution for the application. Microchip also announced the first seven next-generation 16-bit dsPIC digital signal controllers (DSCs) for common, multi-loop switch-mode power supplies (SMPSs) and other power-conversion applications.

National Instruments announced a new programming interface available from the NI Labs virtual research lab that makes it easier for C/C++ developers to take advantage of the NI LabView FPGA (field-programmable gate array) module and NI FPGA-based hardware for embedded control and acquisition applications. With the new NI C Interface to LabView FPGA, developers can use LabView graphical tools to program the FPGA within NI hardware and choose either LabView or C/C++ tools to program the processor within the system. This new LabView FPGA feature helps engineers and scientists with C expertise implement FPGAs within their designs without the burden of learning hardware design, and gives them the option to reuse their existing embedded C code.

Texas Instruments was another of the exhibitors stressing the importance of providing ever greater application-specific support and development for customers with the announcement of two application development kits, one for medical and one for video. The first was a new ultrasound development kit. The second consisted of comprehensive IP-camera and DVR reference designs to provide H.264 high profile on a single platform for video security products.

VersaLogic announced its support for the new SUMIT (stackable unified module interconnect technology) interface. Per the recently adopted specifications from the Small Form Factor Special Interest Group (SFF-SIG), VersaLogic's products feature a wide variety of interface signals on the SUMIT connector. This simplifies the task of interfacing with the system and designing custom I/O modules. The signals available on VersaLogic's CPU boards include PCI Express lanes, low-speed signals such as LPC and SPI, and legacy USB and ISA signals. Five VersaLogic SUMIT products are expected to be available in Q4 of 2009.

VIA Technologies continues to focus on innovation in the growing market for smaller and smaller form factor boards with lower and lower power. The firm announced at the show the first expansion HD module for the VIA EPIA-P710, the VIA P710-HD. Featuring the powerful 4300E embedded graphics processor from S3 Graphics, this first Pico-I/O module for stackable Pico-ITXe boards delivers hi-def video playback and advanced graphics in an extremely low power, compact form factor.

WinSystems introduced a family of open frame color flat-panel PCs to speed a customer's project time to market. An ever-increasing number of OEMs require ready-to-mount flat-panel display subsystems as the HMI (human machine interface) in applications such as test instrumentation, medical devices, machine control, homeland security, transportation, and kiosks.

Emerson Network Power Embedded Computing launched its new “commercial” ATCA bladed server platform, the Katana 2000, targeted at intensive data processing applications that exist outside of the core network. It is a typical ATCA platform, but without the costly and stringent NEBS certification, so that customers targeting applications that do not have NEBS requirements can still get the benefits of an ATCA platform without the cost of the NEBS certification. Emerson Network Power Embedded Computing was also showcasing its first active backplane board, in a microATX form factor, as the firm enters the industrial motherboard market for the first time.

The great diversity of Kontron’s product portfolio was on display once again with new product announcements made at the show that spanned product categories including ATCA boards, IP network rack mount servers, embedded motherboards (Mini-ITX, ATX, and Flex-ATX), and its first entry into the server board market.

The trends of increasing security requirements to meet growing threat levels in communication, networking, and military communications applications, along with taking cost out of the development process for embedded OEM customers, were clear at this show. VDC will continue to track and report on these trends through its embedded research services.

– Edited by Renee Robbins , senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk

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