Richard Barry, head of innovation at Wittenstein High Integrity Systems and creator of FreeRTOS.org, talks to Electronics Weekly about important trends in the embedded market, the challenges faced by developers, and the industries creating the most innovative designs...
1. Describe in two sentences what Wittenstein HIS does in the UK market.
Richard Barry: Wittenstein HIS is best known for OpenRTOS and SafeRTOS, the commercial and safety critical embedded operating systems, both of these are based on the open source kernel, FreeRTOS. Our flagship product, SafeRTOS, is pre certified by TÜV for SIL3 applications and we also supply USB, FAT file systems and TCP/IP components.
2. What important trends do you see happening within the embedded market?
Richard Barry: For the past 20+ years cost optimisation has meant the market was segmented into 8,16 and 32 bit processor architectures. This has now changed and the market is swamped with powerful 32 bit processors with lots of memory.
This provides a great opportunity for innovation since embedded software developers now have more power and memory available at low cost. However, this coupled with the increasing number of tightly coupled peripherals also means a huge leap in the amount and complexity of software required.
As software applications become bigger and more complex to take advantage of the available capacity, off-the-shelf operating systems and middleware become more advantageous as a way to shorten development time and simplify both maintenance and development.
FreeRTOS and OpenRTOS support 23 processor architectures including 32 bit MCs and this includes processors based on ARM 7, 9 and Cortex-M3 as well as those from Freescale, Microchip and many others.
3. What challenges is this presenting to developers
Richard Barry: The challenges are primarily those of increased complexity and education. The new generation of low cost microcontrollers addresses a market segment where assembler and hand-coded optimisation were previously the best solution.
Open source based operating systems bring several vital benefits. Platform independence allows a designer greater flexibility in the design process. A predictable task and data management environment allows the developers to focus on the application and not the housekeeping. With 23 platforms supported by a single kernel it becomes easy to change hardware and reuse software already tested, thereby increasing quality and reducing the effort required.
But, at the same time developers are required to adopt new skills and different approaches to problem solving.
4. What industries do you see creating the most innovative designs?
Richard Barry: 32-bit MCs have opened the door to a raft of safety critical devices. And this is especially true in the medical, industrial and power generation industries. A good example of this comes from the medical sector and there is a huge growth in the number of portable health monitoring devices.
Some of the best medical devices we've seen include the basic elements of other embedded applications; low power, portable, high connectivity and with a strong dependence on software.
The challenge companies, and in particular the smaller players, face is the cost and time involved in meeting the rigorous safety and certification goals. And, this puts a strain on an engineering organisation. However, our unique business model helps with this. Designers can create devices using FreeRTOS and easily migrate to SafeRTOS later in the development cycle, keeping the initial costs to a minimum.
5. How are your customers dealing with the effects of the downturn?
Richard Barry: The downturn appears to have created a new focus on efficiency and innovation. Companies are taking a lower risk approach to certification through products such as SafeRTOS which means the can focus their energy on the application.
Talent will usually find a way to make it through a recession and those turning out innovative, useful and unique technology will be successful.
The Embedded Live Exhibition and Conference brings together the EE Times Group's Embedded Systems Conference and Electronics Weekly Live, organised by Reed Business Information.