Joe Alderson reports from Embedded World 2012 in Nuremberg:
With a rare chance to leave the Farnell/element14 stand and take a trip around the rest of the exhibition, the final day of Embedded World 2012, intended for students and academics, really brought home the incredible level of knowledge among young engineers who are just finishing university and heading out into the work-a-day world. Young engineers were present at many of the stands, demonstrating proficiency with the applications they were showcasing. Many of them had started with simple 8-bit MCUs, using boards like the Arduino Uno, and were now experts working with products from ARM, Intel, AMD, Microsoft and too many others to list.
Looking at the young people at Embedded World I was reminded that society has now seen multiple generations of computer gamers and, I’m relieved to say, these gamers have left a positive impact on today’s technology. One outgrowth of gaming-driven technology could be seen in the Microsoft exhibit, where the Xbox manufacturer was demonstrating projected touch screen technology (think of the film Minority Report), while plenty of the autonomous RC cars demonstrated elsewhere ran real-time 3D models and transmitted back camera feed from multiple angles.
One of the many great student projects that I saw included object recognition and augmented reality gaming, where real world objects were used as walls in virtual games with computer generated balls bouncing between them. Other young engineers, this time having constructed a giant chess playing robot guided by ultrasound, were keen to demonstrate how they had integrated Atmel’s 8-bit MCU and ubiquitous demo board (I’ll leave you to guess which one) into the motor control system.
As I checked out more and more development boards, their increasing level of connectivity really struck me and it’s no surprise that the Embedded World internet backbone was creaking under the weight of many thousands of web-connected demo boards, laptops and mobile devices. A mighty download speed of 9 kb/s made it quite challenging to get a true measure of the functionality of some of the more powerful development kits as they were running apps that relied on APIs from various Internet locations. However, given the popularity of touch screens (both capacitive and resistive) across so many different applications, I think it’s safe to say that the next 2 – 3 years will see massive growth in every day devices making use of this technology.
At the Philips stand, even the humble washing machine was interfaced with wireless connectivity and a touch screen in order to monitor and improve motor efficiency. I’d initially thought that the idea would be to implement smart control of the washing machine so that it could be activated remotely, but the real goal was increasing energy efficiency and extending the product’s life span.
This drive towards energy efficiency and green technology really impressed me at Embedded World this year, with many of the exhibiting companies placing emphasis on what you can do with only a couple of Watts, rather than what you can do by cramming a massive heat sink on your processor. Of course for this reason ARM seemed to be everywhere at Embedded World 2012. From the autonomous Zeppelin circling above the press area to the smart vending machine on the ARM stand to well over half of the development boards that we were showcasing, ARM cores were the most outwardly obvious sign of the emphasis shifting from energy hungry processors to silent, powerful and well designed cores.