Help Wanted: Embedded Engineers Why the United States is losing its edge in embedded systems…
By Mike Anderson, Chief Scientist, The PTR Group, Inc.
Embedded Systems are Everywhere
With all of the cellularphones, portable media player/MP3 devices, global positioning system (GPS)units, set-top boxes, digital video recorders, automobile telematics systems and digital televisions that were introduced over the past couple of years, I suspect that this number is probably on the low side today. We are surrounded by embedded systems comprised of custom hardware and software designs.
An embedded system can be characterized as any device in which you inherently know there must be a computer in there someplace, but you’re just not sure where. This is not to be confused with real-time systems. Systems that have real-time deadlines may or may not be embedded, and not all embedded systems have real-time deadlines. There is considerable overlap for sure, but they are not one and the same.
For instance, a GPS locator has a computer inside. I suspect that everyone knows that. But, we typically don’t attach a keyboard and mouse to it although it’s probably one of the most computer-like of the embedded systems since the user must input addresses in some way. Nor does the user typically vaporize if the device takes 30 seconds to acquire a satellite fix rather than 15 seconds.The GPS is an embedded device, but we probably wouldn’t classify it as a real-time device.
On the other hand, anti-lock brakes are computer controlled as well. Our input into the anti-lock brakes of the car is limited to the brake pedal. The rest of the operation is completely based on other sensors and the environment. It is clearly an embedded system. However, the anti-lock brake system is a real-time system as well. If it doesn’t function within the real-time deadline constraints, then people get injured.
Embedded systems development typically requires a different mindset than we find in the desktop environments. Embedded systems are frequently resource-limited. These systems have low-power processors, possible battery operation, and limited
memory and storage.
Embedded designers need to pack in lots of features, but keep the costs own so the units are affordable.
So, where does the embedded system designer gain this type of knowledge? Currently, companies are paying to have developers learn these concepts on the job.
What many in the embedded systems community would like to see is that new graduates already have some of this knowledge from their college/university education.
The ability of a new hire to “hit the ground running” could save U.S. embedded systems companies millions of dollars each year. This is money that could be reinvested in additional research and development to make them more competitive in the world market, or simply yield a higher return to their investors. Regardless of what is done with the “savings,” the incoming engineer would make U.S. companies more productive.
I only quoted some of the more interesting tidbits.
If you want the full version, here's the link.