Glenn Perry, general manager of Mentor Graphics Embedded Software Division, discusses embedded development trends.
We are seeing dynamic and exciting developments for embedded systems with the proliferation of consumer devices and applications that can do amazing things. As a global provider of embedded software IP, development tools and professional services, the customers we support are challenged by greater complexity than ever before, plus the need to develop innovative products at lower costs within shrinking development windows to remain competitive and profitable. The other challenge is with standard compliance and certification. So despite the proliferation of new and dynamic products, design teams are stressed with development challenges.
VDC Research recently published a report* on the top trends in embedded software and tools for 2011, and the study has identified several areas that Mentor Embedded also recognizes. VDC’s top trends include: Android deployment beyond mobile handsets; growth in multi-OS systems to support consolidation of system hardware while maintaining separation of control and data planes; and increased adoption of Linux. These trends are also top-of-mind from my perch, in addition to some other observations, which I share below.
Android beyond mobile
Android is more than an integrated phone stack—it is a complete development framework with a unique development environment and a passionate open source developer community. We are seeing Android-based user interface (UI) development in products such as white goods, wireless medical devices, industrial automation and automotive applications. This will continue to grow, as VDC predicts. However, integrating and optimizing the latest Android release into a non-mobile handset application can be very challenging. Achieving the necessary performance, footprint, functionality, SoC support and synchronization given the steady march of dessert-themed Android releases can be extraordinarily difficult.
Mentor was at the forefront of Android-based development with our acquisition of Embedded Alley in 2009, which implemented the first commercial ports of Android onto non-mobile-based hardware. Since that time, we have expanded our efforts to become a leader in services, tools and software IP for Android. We have also partnered with leading silicon vendors like Freescale Semiconductor, Texas Instruments and NetLogic to provide Linux and Android development platforms, and integrated embedded products so that their customers can easily optimize device performance with reduced development time and cost.
UIs have become the battleground for competitive differentiation in the Android space. While many design teams love the breadth of functionality that is available in Android, they are often stymied by the effort required to customize the UI in a manner that gives them a unique, competitive advantage. Fortunately, for Mentor and our customers, our Inflexion UI solution has proven to be an ideal solution to enable rapid customization of the Android (and other embedded OSs) UI layer while enhancing 3D and animation capabilities.
Multi-OS and UIs
There is no doubt that the need to run multiple OSs on multicore designs and to create dynamic UIs will continue to grow due to increased processor speeds and consumer demand for innovative products.
Multicore designs are becoming more common and present some serious challenges. Mentor has had a long history in AMP (asymmetrical multi-processing) architectures where our Nucleus OS (the world’s leading commercial OS used in over 2.3 billion handsets) is used extensively in AMP-based mobile handsets. Over time, the proliferation of multicore platforms has yielded a broader array of AMP implementations with increasing levels of sophistication. With AMP designs, inter-CPU communication or inter-process communication (IPC) can be particularly challenging, so it is important to look at methodologies that maintain system stability across multiple OSs.
This is why the Multicore Association (MCA) developed an important API called MCAPI (Multicore API), which allows an application to pass messages and synchronize events between two disparate OS domains (see page 32). The MCA hopes that MCAPI will soon become the de facto common API in multicore.
Mentor has been an active member of the MCA, and in March 2011, contributed an open source implementation of the MCAPI standard, openMCAPI. This implementation provides a Linux library and kernel driver to enable applications to communicate across cores, via shared memory, in AMP systems. The widespread adoption of openMCAPI was fostered to optimize multi-OS and multicore applications on a single chip. Combined with Mentor’s UI technology, developers are now able to seamlessly integrate graphics with ease and reliability, ideal for color printers with displays, portable medical devices, netbooks and other advanced products requiring multiple-OSs.
Expanding embedded Linux
Linux adoption has grown impressively over the past decade. Certain segments, such as networking, arrived early at the embedded Linux party and were key in laying the foundation for Linux as a viable embedded OS. Today, we see markets that previously shunned Linux, embracing it.
For instance, there is keen interest in Linux from the automotive industry for in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems. The GENIVI Alliance (see page 22), an active group of over one hundred top automakers and suppliers, is setting standards for Linux-based IVI systems. Mentor is an active member of both the GENIVI Alliance and the Linux Foundation where we get to rub elbows with competitors, customers and partners in the course of opening new markets for Linux.
Regarding Mentor’s foresight on open source tools,
CodeSourcery, a leading provider of open source GNU-based toolchains, is now part of the Mentor Embedded family of products and services. With the wide adoption of Linux and Android, open source tools are critical and the CodeSourcery team is recognized for its contributions to open source toolchain technologies. These recent developments and technology acquisitions support Mentor’s open source strategy for multi-OS/multicore power optimization.
As the first EDA company to actively invest in embedded software solutions (since the early 1990s with the acquisition of Microtec Research—for those who remember the X-Ray Debugger and VRTX RTOS), Mentor Graphics’ open source investments in Embedded Alley and CodeSourcery are timely for our customers. It is an exciting time to be in this industry given the challenges presented by increasing design complexity, demand for innovative products, the need for power optimization (and power management), and device manufacturers seeking open source expertise to build their ecosystems.
Mentor’s open source strategy complements our family of EDA products and services, and we truly believe we are delivering avenues for success with our partners and customers. We also acknowledge VDC for their recent study, validating that we are on the right path to provide technologies and services that embedded developers require today and tomorrow.