2013 Top Embedded Innovators: Darren Humphrey, Sr. Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, DiSTI

June 1, 2013 OpenSystems Media

1Since 1994, Darren Humphrey has led research and development at DiSTI as Chief Technology Officer. He developed the flagship product, GL Studio, which has since grown to a suite of industry standard HMI tools, including products for safety-critical and embedded applications. He also advises DiSTI clients on integrating HMI technology and is the software architect for the company’s commercial products. Darren holds a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Central Florida.

As you look ahead to the next few years, which embedded technologies and applications present the most interesting opportunities?

HUMPHREY: At DiSTI, we are concerned with the software that drives the Human Machine Interface (HMI) experience. To that end, some of the most interesting opportunities we see emerging revolve around a higher end user interface experience in a broader range of consumer areas, based on the lower barriers to entry into the market.

The availability of low-cost Systems-on-Chip (SoCs) with highly capable OpenGL graphics hardware presents opportunities for exciting and superior user interfaces on a broad range of consumer devices. We’ve seen digital instrumentation and infotainment displays move from a luxury car feature to a standard feature of most new automobiles. More and more, consumers are demanding that the devices they interact with on a daily basis, from thermostats to home appliances, give them the same types of user experiences they are used to on their mobile phones.

What are the largest obstacles to innovation in the embedded realm, and how should those challenges be solved?

HUMPHREY: As advanced graphical displays flourish, the largest obstacle, from an HMI perspective, is developing good user interfaces. In many cases the quality and usability of the interface are either overlooked or undervalued, which can not only be a detriment to the product being delivered, but can also set back the advancement of the technology in the eyes of the consumer. The tools and skill sets used for HMI development are different from those normally used for embedded software development. One solution is leveraging commercially available HMI development tools such as GL Studio.

Developers also need to be concerned with handling change. Selecting a board support package is a moving target in the early stages of product development. Developers have to be cognizant of announcements during product development cycles for advancements in hardware/software and have the agility in their development tools to keep their options open. Choosing HMI tools based on industry standards (OpenGL) makes the difference. Developers easily shift from platform A to platform B because they want to take advantage of these advancements and their HMI development goes with it.

In which market segment and geographic area do you foresee the fastest growth for embedded products?

HUMPHREY: For us, as a B2B provider, we look toward auto- motive, medical, and space, and the geographic areas that support these industries, as markets that offer significant near-term opportunity. Specifically for user interfaces, embedded in the automotive industry is hot and we are concentrating on areas such as Detroit and Los Angeles in the U.S., Germany, France, the UK, Korea, and Japan. We’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg for the automotive vertical market as price becomes less of a factor for digital displays.

How does a company stay on the cusp of innovation, rather than just following the embedded crowd?

HUMPHREY: Well I think there are a lot of answers to that question. I personally read a lot to stay aware of trends, find and learn from fresh talent, and preview new product releases. But I think as a company, our biggest advantage is that we are willing to take chances and try new activities. As a small business, we are large enough to have the capital to take on the risks of trying new opportunities and the willingness to do so. On the flip side, we are small enough to be able to act quickly and move on new ideas. We are constantly evaluating new technologies to see if they are a good fit for us or maybe represent a new direction. An innovator can’t be afraid to fail.

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