Jay Hiremath
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Everywhere you turn, the prospects of embedded systems and their applications loom large. Though not visible out in the open, it’s for everybody to see in the form of products – whether consumer or commercial. It shows itself in the form of consumer electronics, high-end industrial products and defence products.

The reasons for these are primarily due to the rapid growth of semiconductor chips – every year, semiconductor devices become faster, cheaper and less power hungry. The silver lining is the fact that this high-end technology is being designed in India and the design houses over here are consciously moving up in the chain.

A projection made by the ISA and Frost & Sullivan in the year 2006, proclaimed that the Indian semiconductor and embedded design industry will grow from $3.25 billion in 2005 to $14.42 billion in 2010 and further to $43.07 billion in 2015. The Indian design organizations are moving beyond simple labor to becoming true contributors in product innovation. Many multinationals have already invested in new design operations in India or are in the process of expanding their current facilities. A recent Nasscom-Mckinsey study said that the domestic embedded systems market was geared to generate exports worth $10.25 billion by 2008.

Major trends
There are several trends that are emerging in the country driven by the demand in the market. Some of them are PoS devices, industrial automation equipment, state of the art consumer electronics amongst others. Medical equipment is another rapidly growing segment in India. These devices require speed, high-resolution imagery, reconstruction capability and high bandwidth. Reconstruction algorithms especially require a tremendous amount of processing power. Developers are moving toward standard IP building blocks.

One of the hottest trends in the embedded systems is the application of DSPs (digital signal processing). DSPs enable embedded systems to have a human interface in form of audio and video capabilities. Advances in the digital signal processing technologies are enabling widespread use of DSPs in a variety of digital multimedia and communication applications. High processing speeds, programmability and real-time performance make DSPs uniquely suited for these video, voice and data applications.

The path up the embedded value chain will take India through three roles. These roles are those of an optimizer defining tasks, enabler providing reference solution, and co-innovator providing IP-based solution development and system architecture consulting. Embedded systems are customized computing systems in electronic devices such as mobile phones and digital cameras. Designing embedded systems is challenging as the borderline between hardware and software is blurred within the domain.

In the changing computing paradigm, when computing is moving from client-server through Internet through ubiquitous computing, some distinct trends are impacting embedded industry. These are fixed function to multifunction devices; analog to digital media; proprietary to commercial software; shift from 8-bit and 16-bit to 32-bit and higher processors; limited fixed line bandwidth to high bandwidth wired/wireless; and standalone to integration between embedded devices and Web.

Some hurdles
Software is the key driver for embedded devices. However, there are certain challenges that need to be overcome as embedded approaches ubiquity. The main challenges are interoperability, heterogeneity, mobility, security and adaptability. Many companies are focusing on creating intellectual property (IP). The companies create IP and focus on getting business from these products — thus creating an end-to-end solutions environment. Companies with expertise in embedded software and having created an IP around it are able to create an environment, where manufacturers can get the complex software and hardware integration done.

Embedded system design is getting complex, requiring intimate knowledge of both the hardware and software worlds. Getting the software to work with limited memory is often a struggle. Designers of embedded systems strive to improve performance, reliability and cost effectiveness. Hardware and software choices are simultaneously considered. This is called co-design. The goal is to produce an efficient implementation that satisfies performance and cost requirements.

According to the ISA-Frost and Sullivan Reports 2006, the increase in embedded software content in end-user products has led to increase in embedded software development. This factor is likely to impact the Indian embedded software industry positively. The total revenue from the embedded software industry has been estimated at $2.5 billion in 2005. It is likely to reach $36.3 billion in 2015 at a CAGR of 30.5 percent over the period 2005 to 2015.

The contribution of the embedded software market to the total revenues of the design market is also likely to increase from the current 78 percent in 2005 to 82 percent in 2010 and 84 percent in 2015. The number of engineers in the embedded software space is estimated to be around 60,220 in 2005.

The estimated engineering workforce required in achieving the forecast revenue in 2010 and 2015 is 241,000 and 669,885, respectively.

India as hub for embedded software
It is expected that the development of VLSI design industry, hardware/board design industry and embedded software development in India would be imminent in the near future. In the period 2001 to 2005, it involved only support work and sustenance engineering. Currently, embedded software development service offering is limited to activities such as various components of embedded software such as BIOS, API development and DSP programming. With non-computing equipment such as cell phones and other handheld devices expected to grow rapidly, India is likely to emerge as a hub for the embedded software market.

The author is General Manager, India Engineering Center and Alliances, AMD. He can be reached at smarter.choice@amd.com
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