Out and about

International CES

I started out the year with my annual trek to Las Vegas to attend the ultimate consumer electronics show, International CES. This event continues to grow, with this year's being the largest yet. In two full days, I was only able to work my way through about half of the 1.92 million square feet of exhibit space, visiting many of the more than 3,250 exhibitors at CES. Since the consumer space is the single largest influence on the electronics industry, it is always interesting to me to watch new trends emerging and study how consumer electronics impact VITA technologies.

"Connected" was the overriding theme as devices are becoming more intelligent and connected via Wi-Fi to home networks that then extend to the rest of the world. In home appliances, ZigBee is becoming the common local mesh with an outlet to Wi-Fi.

High-definition television technology is not holding still, moving up to 4K and 8K resolutions that might see some of their first implementations in embedded computing because the content for consumers is going to be a while in development. The obstacles to distribution and content development are greater than they were for the first generation of HD.

Communications networks are already struggling to keep up, so the added bandwidth demanded by higher-resolution video is going to require some major technology shifts. This bodes well for the bandwidth demand of critical embedded computing such as signal processing and high-performance computing that will benefit from bigger and faster data pipes.

Embedded Tech Trends

Yours truly hosted Embedded Tech Trends in January, where 15 leading companies of the embedded computing industry gathered with 13 editors and analysts to meet aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. Industry thought leaders led discussions on a wide range of topics during the two-day event with the focus on “embedded computing technology in action.”

Topics covered during the two-day event included analysts' viewpoints of the industry, government research programs, solid state drives, FPGA technology, Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP), test instrument architectures, High-Performance Embedded Computing (HPEC), signal and image processing, the Intel Intelligent Systems Framework (ISF), and embedded technologies in action. Each topic included presentations from the sponsors followed by questions from the media.

Bob Hult, Bishop & Associates, presented market data from the connector industry's perspective. Developing trends in the connector markets are an early indicator to the board and system suppliers as to what direction they can expect their markets to go. Bob is seeing an increasing need for support of higher data rates and interest in fiber optic connectors, supporting the notion that optical interconnections are on the cusp of having a major impact on the industry.

The liveliest debate of Embedded Tech Trends was during the presentation on the Intel ISF by RJ McLaren of Kontron. This new initiative from Intel defines a set of interoperable solutions designed to address connecting, managing, and securing devices in a consistent and scalable manner. It is still unclear to me what this actually means and you could tell from the questions, there is still much to learn.

SWaP was a major topic of discussion as the suppliers struggle to optimize these parameters of computing systems while still delivering on high performance. HPEC and signal processing presentations highlighted the advances being made that enable smaller and faster computing platforms. Supplies are addressing both small form factor products on one end of the spectrum and HPEC computers using VPX and AdvancedTCA on the other end. With the switch fabric architectures used in the HPEC computers, it is amazing to see the levels of performance that can be delivered by today's computing technology.

In general, the sponsors were cautiously optimistic about growth for 2013. Since government defense spending heavily influences the industry, they are closely monitoring the budget discussions around the world to see which direction spending will go. They all realize that at best, it will be slowed down so there is an intense desire to seek out new applications for their technology.

All of the material presented at this year's event has been posted on the VITA website (www.vita.com). This is a very intense two-day event, so be sure to put Embedded Tech Trends on your calendar for 2014 to help you stay on top of the latest trends in the industry.