Keeping Up with the Latest Technologies Requires a Can-Learn Attitude
We all know how the microprocessor has revolutionized many aspects of our everyday lives. The most visible examples are cell phones and the Internet. Another part of this revolution that we do not often hear about is deeply embedded systems. Embedded systems are those that contain a microprocessor or microcontroller, but we do not think of them as computers – the computer is hidden, far removed from the form of the product, or deeply embedded in the system. Examples of embedded systems in our lives are ubiquitous. They are present in simple gadgets like CO detectors, or in more complex applications like automobiles. Modern automobiles rolling out of the assembly line have more than 100 microcontrollers in them; from simple highly integrated micros to sense tire pressure and radio the data to the main computer and Remote Keyless Entry (RKE) micros with sophisticated data encryption, to more complex ones to handle Telematic tasks, such as navigation, infotainment, and communications. All networked in a tiered network with different levels of speed, complexity, and fault tolerance. Indeed, some of the avionics-borrowed technology present in today’s automobiles is possible thanks to the pervasiveness of microcontrollers. In the home, we see microcontrollers in all household appliances, including rice cookers and toasters. Homes in the United States also have an average of about 100 microcontrollers each, yet the household penetration of personal computers is leveling off at about 50% to 60%.
Microcontrollers come in all varieties according to architecture, memory size, speed, peripherals, and analog capabilities. The largest segment of the embedded market is still dominated by those micros that can be used to do all kinds of interesting, sometimes simple, sometimes more challenging products and projects. For example, a microcontroller with a temperature sensor and an LCD, can readily make a digital thermometer. Add some wireless connectivity, and now you have a component in the growing Internet of Things (IoT) architecture.
Products are increasingly requiring networking, may run on alternate power sources, or may have to be placed in a harsh environment. Because of the potential for these systems to be diverse in characteristics, companies working in the field need to continuously assess their competency and keep on learning to maintain their technical edge in this country and in this global economy. Continuous improvement and lifelong learning are the key places to start.