Embedded Design and Technology Trends in the Military

A presidential election... the continuance or end of deploying troops in Iraq...Phoenix spacecraft landing on Mars...2008 could be an exciting year, so let's take a moment to look at a few trends that could affect the military embedded Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) market.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Application Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Embedded software, Defense industry, Military vehicles and equipment

Ruggedized Hard Disk Drives Keep Data Safe In Harsh Environments

Conventional hard disk drives (HDDs) are designed to reliably operate in the hospitable physical surroundings of interior deployments, which are typically characterized by mild temperatures, stable humidity and modest levels of vibration. By contrast, outdoor and mobile storage environments can entail anything from sweltering heat or sub-zero frost to oppressive dampness and pounding vibration. And all may be encountered miles above sea level. So it’s no surprise that bringing the benefits of HDD-based storage to outdoor and mobile settings such as automotive, industrial PC, field computing, and military applications poses a formidable challenge to engineers.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Application Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Computer software / hardware, Durability

Encapsulated Video “Brick” Bolsters Video Surveillance Along Boarder

Increasingly dependent on continuous video monitoring and recording, even today's more sophisticated security surveillance systems are often plagued by reliability problems. In some ways, more complex video systems are susceptible to signal and other dependability problems simply because they are multifaceted. Systems integrators may know what cameras and recorders to use in a given situation, but they also need to consider how subcomponents could play a critical role under certain conditions. A noisy switch or incompatible distribution amplifier (DA) can compromise the integrity of a video security system yet go undiagnosed or even undetected until the horse is already out of the barn.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Application Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Imaging, Security systems, Surveillance

Data-Centric Network Integration Takes Headaches Out of Avionic Upgrades

Avionics systems are becoming more powerful and more dependent upon data exchanged between instruments. These instruments and subsystems reside on a network and must share time-critical data to achieve their mission. For example, targeting systems require real-time input of aircraft speed and attitude, as well as position and velocity data of the target. At the same time, additional bandwidth is required for data from onboard systems, such as GPS, airspeed and directional gyro, flight control systems, and dozens of other instruments and subsystems. As a result, network traffic is high, and potential data interactions can be highly complex. This complexity makes real-time integration of the data from disparate instruments during operational missions a significant challenge. Furthermore, upgrades of avionics and software applications during the useful life of the airframe means that new subsystems must be seamlessly integrated with legacy subsystems. In other words, data paths, interactions, and integration are not fixed forever. Today, aircraft systems typically are constructed to provide point-to-point communications between instruments and control systems that require realtime data. This approach has a significant impact on the complexity of the system and its subsequent maintainability. If an instrument is upgraded or replaced, the interfaces between it and other directly connected devices have the potential to change, requiring significant recoding and retesting.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Application Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Architecture, Avionics

How to Design an Embedded RDBMS Search

As the cost of micro-disk and NAND Flash continue to drop, devices are storing more and more data. It is common now for a person's MP3 player to have more storage than their laptop. But this increase in storage capacity has not been matched with advances in the user interface. Typically, users still wrestle with a folder-based interface to find the data they want, searching by a few vendor-defined categories such as artist, album, and genre. But a new class of embedded database manage- ment systems (DBMS) is emerging to allow end users to search the way people think, rather than in this stat- ic manner. With a RAM footprint ranging from a few tens to a few hundred kilobytes, these products enable developers to deliver this sophisti- cated search on mobile devices. So how do they work? How do you write an embedded application to use a relational DBMS (RDBMS)? While there are a few kinds of DBMS, the relational model has tri- umphed over all the others, largely because it abstracts the data struc- tures so that applications don't have to know them. A relational database management system offers a standard, high-level query language that allows access to data by content, not by pointer or location and offset.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Application Briefs, Board-Level Electronics, Electronics & Computers, Architecture, Human machine interface (HMI), Data management

High-Integrity Java Targets Safety-Critical Systems

High-integrity software plays critical roles in telecommunications, transportation, defense systems, industrial automation, and power management. Because human lives may be lost and tremendous economic costs may result if the software fails, the development of high-integrity software adopts practices that impose greater rigor on the software development processes. This rigor includes documentation of system requirements, architecture, design, test plan, and source code; development accountability audit trails; independent peer review of all development artifacts; full traceability analysis; and extensive test coverage. The goal of this increased rigor is to assure correct operation and reliability of the software. As computer automation expands its reach and influence, the size and complexity of high-integrity software is expanding as well. To deal with the increased development workload resulting from the ever-expanding role of high-integrity software, military and aerospace industries are leading the way towards the use of a safety-critical subset of the Java programming language to help increase developer productivity and reduce the maintenance costs associated with highintegrity software.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Application Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Computer software / hardware, Safety critical systems, Productivity, Quality control

Multicores Affect Algorithm Choices

Design engineers soon will need to bridge the growing gap between hardware reality and software capabilities in the highperformance computing (HPC) realm as the use of multicore microprocessors grows. If your software development or sourcing plans haven't anticipated these development situations, your applications may have a shorter life than you had planned.

The 2006 version of technical computing "reality" is an inexpensive dual-core processor from AMD or Intel on a desktop system, or a dual- or quad-core RISC processor from Sun or IBM running on a server. In 2007, we should expect to see inexpensive quad-core processors from AMD and Intel, and processors with up to eight or more cores in 2008. These small symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) systems will be a far cry from the proprietary $500,000+ SMP systems of a few years ago. This technology transition has big implications for the "democratization" of computing power. On the horizon are four- to eightcore systems that cost only a few thousand dollars and sit on the desk of every design engineer.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Application Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Mathematical models, Computer software / hardware, Systems engineering