Fluffing the Cloud

The synergistic development aspect of electronic design was very apparent these past weeks at the APEC and Embedded World shows, as engineers from around the globe came together in San Antonio, Texas, and Nuremberg, Germany, to exchange ideas and look at the latest in embedded systems.

By Alix Paultre, Editor


The electronic design engineering field is a fantastic place to be at any given point, and especially so in these modern times. The past two decades saw the groundwork laid for these exciting times, in technologies like organic LEDs, wide-bandgap semiconductors, and the digital infrastructure. These and other advanced core technologies enable and empower new solutions to serve existing application spaces and create and develop new ones.

The booths at  APEC and Embedded World shows were crammed with the latest solutions available, for applications both mature and speculative, and at each (some visitors, including me, bounced between both) there was a buzz of activity as company reps and visitors played with the demonstrations and bounced ideas off of one another. The energy was palpable at each of the venues, and the energy of all those people dealing with one another in these public marketplaces was palpable.

The Cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) are shaping society in fundamental ways, and you are the ones shaping the devices in it and the infrastructures supporting it. Every device you make is a voice in the great chorus of development moving society forward, and these exhibitions are the concert halls. One positive aspect of Embedded, for example, was the fact that most booths contained functional demonstrations of technology, and not just displays of components and parts.

In the area of wireless, one of the trends we observed was the final filling in, or in the words of the headline, the “fluffing out” of the Cloud. There are a lot of wireless devices using wired or sub-gigahertz proprietary wireless systems, for example, and bringing them into the IoT is the true “final mile” of the Cloud. Solutions shown ranged from multi-protocol wireless modules and SoCs to hard-wired intelligent modules for everything from old “early-adopter” houses full of semi-intelligent disconnected wired subsystems to devices intended to cost-effectively upgrade a manufacturing facility to Industry 4.0.

What this means for you is that there are more possibilities and opportunities than ever before. Just about anything you can imagine in three dimensions can be realized in an object of some kind. Software is more powerful than ever before, and design tools can even output C code for those who are better at thinking with their hands. Development kits and reference designs abound, enabling those with a concept but without a staff to properly develop that idea with completely operational subsystems that provide all the functionality desired for the final product.

This development is also empowering the components and magnetics industry, as those industries are being challenged to step up to address the new needs of the advanced topologies in the newest generation of devices. Better capacitors, improved magnetics, and better PCB construction not only address the demands of the latest semiconductor materials and IC designs, they also provide empowering aspects of their own, enabling engineers to leverage the benefits with one another to achieve their goals.

This movement forward is also placing severe demands on the test and measurement industry as well, at every level. Test has achieved a level of importance in the design industry previously only hinted at, and now is a critical aspect of design, development, and manufacture. Manufacturers now test at every point of the chain from idea to product, and this benefits both the engineer, the company, and the consumer.

The big issue in test is that a test device has to be “better” than the system it is testing. Just as a ruler can only measure something more accurately than another ruler if their lines are closer together, a test device can only measure a system if it is faster, has a higher bandwidth, and a higher memory than the item tested. The test industry has responded with a plethora of fantastic gear that can measure quickly, widely, and deeply, with a memory both big enough and fast enough to measure anything attached to it.

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