Future Trends and Technologies in Embedded Systems
As breakthroughs and progress continue in electronics, networking, wireless communications, cognitive and effective computing, and the robotics fields, the devices in your proximity are communicating with each other in more ways than you can imagine. There appears to be a close future in which, every object around us will be enabled with a sensor or processor embedded within it. The embedded sensor will be invisible to us, nevertheless, communicating with all other connected devices. This is aimed at integrating our lives with technology to make them even more connected and accessible than ever before.
The advancement of technologies that enable faster communications, large data storage capacities, and highly interwoven connections among devices will determine the future of embedded systems. Before delving into the vast array of embedded system applications, let us take a look at a few key areas that are coming to shape the future trends in embedded systems.
1. Ubiquitous Computing
The term, ‘Ubiquitous Computing’ (Ubicomp), was coined by the then director of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center – Mark Weiser. The term is also known as Pervasive computing (PARC). Today’s ubiquitous computing targets are smartphones and tablets, but the market for these devices is said to expand exponentially, with gaming consoles being able to log and access your schedule. One of the future trends in embedded systems, ubiquitous computing, is embedding computing expertise (microprocessors) into daily objects in order to enable them to perform useful tasks and communicate more effectively. This would minimize the interaction between the user and their devices. Ubicomp devices are network-connected and constantly available.
An example of ubiquitous computing would be your smartwatches. The technology alerts the user when they receive a call or notification. Another example is where a user registered for Amazon’s Audible. One can start an audiobook on their smartphone through the app and can continue listening to the book at home via Amazon’s Echo.
2. Cyber-Physical Systems
Cyber-physical systems aim to integrate the physical and cyber world and are backed by powerful computation and fast communication to do so. They are an integral part of IoT and can be used in tasks requiring a lot of precision. Areas that are either inaccessible to humans or prone to human error can be performed with ease through these embedded systems technologies. Activities such as exploration, developing energy-efficient systems, robotic arm implementation, etc. have the scope for cyber-physical systems. These systems have also been used in space exploration. ‘Curiosity’ is a Mars exploration rover that uses an intelligent cyber-physical system to maneuver the surface of Mars. It also has the ability to change its location based on the lighting available and weather conditions.
Cyber-physical systems are known to be difficult to implement because they require a blend of advanced hardware and software. Due to the high levels of complexity, these systems are also susceptible to privacy, flexibility, and security issues.
3. Intelligent Devices
Intelligent Devices are embedded systems technologies that have the ability to think. A combination of algorithms, embedded hardware, and technology allow these devices to reproduce activities that were only thought to be possible only by human beings.
Machines now are equipped to think for you. The MIT Media Lab has been working on the project with the concept of – ‘Things that think’. The goal is to create environments that support this way of thinking. Intelligent devices will soon be everywhere, whether they are as simple as iLumi – an intelligent light bulb that can be controlled via an Android app to access different lighting environments or as complex as PETMAN – an anthropomorphic robot that can sense chemical leaks in its costume. This mega intelligence level in machines could raise security and privacy concerns.
4. Internet of Things
IoT is one of the future technologies in embedded systems that connects the internet to physical devices such as household appliances and manufacturing machines. The Internet of Things should soon be more than a concept, due to cloud computing and increased access to high-speed internet around the world. IoT is no longer a topic of debate, thanks to platforms like Cosm that enable data and devices to be connected in novel ways and operating systems like Contiki that are dedicated to developing apps that bring the concept to life.
The future trends in embedded systems in the form of IoT can be
- Smart Homes: Here you have an entire house that can be voice-controlled. You can set up the lights to any mode you want, or order groceries and have your iRobot clean your house for you. Leaving and entering your house would require no keys as you would have face recognition software.
- Smart Cities: Imagine a city that can reduce your commute time by at least 15-20 minutes. Having all the traffic lights on sensor via the cameras to avoid congestion
- Smart Cars: With the growing popularity and technology available, we might see a driverless car in the near future. Companies like Tesla are working on their models for achieving this dream.
5. Context-Aware Devices
Content-awareness is a level of intelligence added to ubiquitous computing that aims to make devices extra conscious of their surroundings. These devices are headed towards becoming the future technologies in embedded systems.
Context-aware gadgets help businesses better understand their customers by facilitating a visible framework about their environment and value systems. Sensing is an essential aspect of context-awareness. External sensing is used in location systems and visual tracking to collect context or embedded in a user’s device to produce context-rich data in an internal sensing manner.
Consider these situations: a doctor has a device that detects its proximity to a specific patient and automatically displays the patient’s records, saving time on search and retrieval of such information. Or, using humidity sensors, a device that automatically warns you when it is about to rain and shades your clothes drying in the sun. Or a device that detects your mood and adjusts your room’s lighting accordingly. At the moment, in a lab somewhere, are great minds working on making these innovations a reality.
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