Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) entering the burgeoning world of embedded IoT devices will do well to consider how they can minimize time to market using a reliable, industrial-grade commercial real-time operating system (RTOS).
Time to market involves more than just a time window. It includes quality and reliability and getting them right the first time. These factors, if not addressed up front, can negatively affect time in that market as well as share of that market.
Both of these directly affect revenues. Time to market determines revenue over the product’s entire commercial lifecycle (Figure 1). Getting to market late shortens the time a product will be viable and it also gives competitors the ability to take market share that might otherwise be available.
Figure 1. A product brought to market late accrues lower sales volume over the entire commercial lifecycle.
The free software trap and industrial-grade RTOS
Some time ago (and to some extent today) developers were lured by the siren song of low-cost, free, or open-source RTOSs and other code. However, experience shows these can lead to unexpected delays, struggles with unproven code, missing components, and a lack of documentation and support. These contribute not only to missed time-to-market targets, but also to poor quality or defects that result in recalls, returns, and damage to a company’s reputation. All of these factors add up to expenses well beyond the cost of an industrial-grade RTOS.
While there is no standard definition of “industrial grade,” it has become imperative that an RTOS has characteristics that qualify it for use in the development of consumer and industrial products such as cameras, wearables, home security systems, televisions, flight control systems, and medical devices.
Industrial-grade RTOSs are at the high end of the commercial RTOS spectrum, and can vary significantly in terms of performance, features, and robustness. Choosing this type of software can have a dramatic impact on time to market, as well as return on investment (ROI).
Such an RTOS has the following characteristics:
- Small size – Fully featured yet optimized for resource-constrained devices
- Pre-certified – Meets rigorous quality and safety standards, as well as market-specific certifications
- No open source code – Free from software license conflicts that jeopardize intellectual property (IP) ownership and potentially carry bugs
- Validated source code – 100 percent statement and branch coverage using third-party static analysis (necessary for safety certification)
- Availability of full source code – Enables developers to better understand how the RTOS operates and customize for use with their applications
- High-quality source code and documentation – Clean, clear, and consistent source code and quality documentation that facilitates developer productivity
- Widely used across industries – Field-proven where high quality, robustness, and reliability are paramount
- Indemnification – Commitment by the RTOS provider to defend against any claims of IP rights infringement by the RTOS
- Advanced technology – Includes capabilities not available in other offerings, such as a picokernel architecture, event trace, event chaining, preemption-threshold scheduling, downloadable modules, execution profiling; symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) support, run-time stack analysis, and priority inheritance.
- High performance – Interrupt response, context switching, and message passing service time kept to a minimum to avoid system thrashing and the inability to keep up with events
- Easy to use – Documentation, examples, wide processor support, and intuitive APIs for greater productivity, faster product development, and higher quality
- Support – RTOS supplier stands behind its product with full support
- Adam Smith's “invisible hand” – Backed by a successful company able to reinvest in its products and, unlike non-commercial developer communities, is highly motivated to help users succeed
Using a proven industrial-grade commercial RTOS has two major benefits. First and foremost is shortening time to market. This comes from a reliable, well-documented and supported RTOS with a full range of features, components, drivers and access to quality tools. That also means a pool of experienced developers who are familiar with the platform and can quickly get to work on a project. The second benefit is better assurance of quality and reliability.
The factors listed combine to give developers confidence, reliable code, access to familiar tools, documentation, and support among others, which collectively make the project easier to address and avoid errors and bugs that can result from incompatible source code or incomplete documentation.
The decision regarding where to spend limited development budgets – and indeed, how large a development budget should be – must be made in the context of the overall success of the product and the enterprise.
Choosing an industrial-grade RTOS, the highest standard of commercial software available, enables fast time-to-market and high performance, as well as additional powerful benefits to developers.
Michael May is Vice President of Marketing at Express Logic.