Embedded Systems: Form Factors for the Future

One of the foremost requirements for embedded systems is their long term availability. To secure their investments, companies have to make sure that they make the right decision for a system that will be successful and thereby available on the long run.

Case stories of Kontron customers often mirror the need for reliable systems and how much thought is put into making the right choice. And of course producers of embedded systems have to evaluate carefully which form factors and chipsets they want to work with.


Automotive and Industry 4.0 require new Solutions


The automotive industry is one example for various new electronic functions that have to be realized with embedded components in the car. With the growing need to integrate new functionality, the space for the components is running out, multifunctional systems have to be developed, tested and deployed – while the industry is still in progress towards the Internet of Things with requirements that cannot all be anticipated today. So there will always be a balancing act between fulfilling the needs of modern functionality with new technology and on the other hand offering proven evaluated solutions that have developed over a long time. The development of industry 4.0 will come with new demands regarding functionality and areas of deployment, too. For example processes have to be made more secure when they are transferred to the internet which will require more embedded systems in encryption. The German inter-trade organization BITKOM assumes that embedded systems will be the core of industry 4.0. Decisions which form factors will succeed might have to be made more often and even faster. On the other hand there is still a lot to do in the area of defining standards.


Embedded System Vendors must identify the Trends

„In order to deliver long term solutions, embedded vendors have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Therefore they don’t only examine the products of big semiconductor producers like Intel and Freescale but also the ideas of smaller companies”, writes Manne Kreuzer on electroniknet. Although trends from the consumer industry tend to spill over into the area of professional systems increasingly, the use in industrial or medical devices and equipment is quite another story. Not only the longer lifecycles make the difference – the environments often call for rugged, robust systems.


Mini-ITX, Pico-ITX, NUC in close-up

Kreuzer looks at three rather novel form factors. One example for a form factor invented by a smaller company, VIA from Taiwan, in 2001 is Mini-ITX. “Without doubt Mini-ITX is the leading standard for embedded motherboards today”, Kreuzer quotes Kontron-CTO Jens Wiegand. According to Wiegand Mini-ITX is not only the smallest ATX compatible board format but it has lots of standard interfaces and a slot for PCI-Express in most cases, which makes it fit for use in many areas of application. Pico-ITX, which was also developed by VIA, is another form factor said to have a future. Mini-ITX as well as Pico-ITX is available with ARM implementations – that broadens the field of application even further.

Another finding of Kreuzers article is the fact that experts are quite sure NUC, a very small format introduced by Intel, will not be very interesting for vendors of embedded systems, because it is more suitable for other applications like mainstream. Wiegand too sees the target group for NUC in other areas than embedded systems. For now it can be concluded, that NUC will probably stay a niche concept.


Security: Key for new Technologies

On the long run embedded systems vendors have to address the security issues that are coming up with integrated industry and Internet of Things. Cloud for example is still a problematic issue for embedded solutions and there is a big need to address various architecture layers regarding security standards in order to set up an industry cloud. Kreuzers conclusion: The issue of trust is very important to embedded computing companies because it was earned the hard way over years as outsourcing partners until more and more responsibility in development was put on their shoulders. “While the embedded industry managed to reduce the time between releases of consumer and business IT products and their own solutions – for some processors even down to zero – they now find themselves facing huge challenges: to deliver the right technologies promptly and reliably”.

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