Thoughts from Embedded World

March 20, 2017 Michael Barr, Barr Group

I’m just getting back to work today after attending last week’s Embedded World trade show in Nuremberg, Germany—and I still have a lot on my mind. This was my first visit to Embedded World and I have to say I was considerably impressed by the turnout and overall level of industry activity there. Of course, I’d heard for a decade that “EW” was the place to go for an embedded systems conference in Europe. Still, I had not realized just how much I needed to fill the gaping void that has become of the once-vast annual Embedded Systems Conference in Silicon Valley.

Sadly, the conference experience in the United States has slowly but inexorably faded over the last decade or so. Thus, the first thing that struck me about Embedded World was how lively and, frankly, huge it was. Sure, the technical courses were fewer (maybe 15) and well off to the side. But the uncountable vendor booths spanned five convention halls—so vast I never really felt like I saw it all! All of the major RTOS companies, tool vendors, microcontroller makers, and others were present, often with very large booths.

It was exciting being around so many people from the embedded systems design community. And I ran into enough familiar faces from the U.S. to form the impression that Embedded World isn’t just for Europe. And if you were wondering, the majority of what happens at the conference is in English.

Emerging industry trends

The second is that although “safety” and “security” are both common themes in vendor marketing at the conference, I was surprised that many companies have hitched their wagons to just one of those themes. For example, there are semiconductor companies that talk extensively about the security features of their microcontrollers (e.g., ARM and TrustZone) but never mention safety anywhere in their marketing. And vice versa.

At Barr Group, we regularly consult with design teams on products safety/reliability and/or security. Increasingly, we find that many of our consulting clients are designing products that need to be both safe/reliable as well as secure from hacking. This is because, as shown by our latest Embedded Systems Safety & Security Survey, 60% of new embedded systems designs will always or sometimes be connected to the Internet. Unfortunately, the Internet is a dangerous place for a medical device or a car’s CAN network to connect with; frequent attempted or actual hacking of your Internet-connected device should be expected by designers at this point.

The demand for safe/reliable embedded systems is only going to increase. And the same is true for secure embedded systems. Thus, I confidently predict that many marketeers will be talking about safety AND reliability (rather than just one of those) at future Embedded Worlds, which I will just as confidently predict I’ll attend.

Barr Group co-founder and CTO Michael Barr is a former adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering with over a decade of software design and implementation experience. Barr has been admitted as a testifying expert witness in U.S. and Canadian court cases involving issues of reverse engineering, interception of encrypted signals, patent infringement, theft of copyrighted source code, and product liability. Barr is also the author of three books and more than 60 articles and papers on embedded systems. For three and a half years Barr served as editor-in-chief of Embedded Systems Programming magazine. Barr holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering and has lectured in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Maryland, from which he also earned an MBA.

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