San Francisco's Moscone Center will be the place for mechanical engineers to learn more about embedded systems this month. During the week of April 9, the Center will host the twelfth annual Embedded Systems Conference (ESC).
Embedded systems continue to find their way into myriad electromechanical applications. One re-cent example is hand drills, says Lindsey Vereen, conference chair of the Embedded Systems Conference and editorial director of "Embedded Systems Programming." New high-end drill models feature a digital signal processor controlling the motor for increased efficiency. In one drill, the DSP actually sits inside the hollow plastic trigger.
"Engineers don't do this gratuitously just because there are microprocessors out there and they can," says Vereen. "There are several good reasons for using embedded systems in a design." He cites lowering product cost, decreasing power consumption, increasing product safety, enhanced reliability, and the ability to add more features as the top five reasons.
One area in which Vereen expects to see more embedded systems is appliances. Adding smarts to a refrigerator's motor, for example, could improve engine efficiency and reduce power consumption. The cost of adding a microprocessor to a motor is minor for most applications, and the benefits can be significant.
Another technology trend engineers should pay attention to is wireless communications, which goes far beyond the realm of cellular telephones, says Vereen. "Embedded systems used to be primarily stand-alone applications," he says, "but thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet, these applications can be connected and interconnected." In most instances, the most practical way to make these connections is wirelessly.
Already, embedded systems are enabling wireless reading of home electric meters and remote monitoring of vending machines. Technologies such as Bluetooth will make practical wireless connections between a teenager's MP3 player and a headset. "At MIT's Media Lab, they're working on a technology to let people exchange business card information with just a handshake," notes Vereen.
The Embedded Systems Conference will offer tutorials and classes on designing wireless devices as well as other hot topics such as embedded Java, Internet appliance design, system-on-chip (SOC), and developing distributed systems. The focus, as always, is on learning practical skills and techniques that engineers can apply the day they get back to the office.
The conference kicks off Monday with a program of 15 full-day tutorials with levels ranging from introductory to advanced. Beginning tutorials are a good way for mechanical engineers to begin learning about embedded design, and these courses include: Demystifying DSP, Embedded C Overview, The Wireless Web, Managing Embedded Projects, Embedded Linux Essentials, and Graphics for Embedded Systems.
Tuesday through Friday the educational program continues with a total of 171 hour-and-a-half-long classes, including 91 new ones. In addition to extensive coverage of the newest technologies, ESC provides a solid program on the fundamentals for the beginning embedded designer. Introductory-level classes cover a range of topics and include: Embedded Internetworking with 8- and 16-bit Microcontrollers, What Every Embedded System Designer Should Know, Internet Security: The Basics, Communications Protocols for Consumer Internet Appliances, Bluetooth IP Selection Criteria, and Multitasking Design and Implementation Issues in Embedded Systems.
Tuesday through Thursday, the show floor is open, and more than 300 companies will be exhibiting components, software tools, and operating systems for designing fast, efficient, and reliable embedded systems. Showgoers will be able to talk face-to-face with product engineers from both industry giants and up-and-coming firms. The world's largest exhibition of embedded products will include: real-time operating systems, embedded Internet tools, development and testing tools, DSPs, flash memory chips, Java for embedded systems, and networking tools. All these products are increasingly becoming standard tools not just for electrical engineers but for engineers of all stripes.
For news and introductions from this week's conference, visit www.embedded. com/esc.
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