06 October 2009

Connectivity, the new essential service

One of the legacies of having an engineering background is that, inevitability, you'll be called on to sort out computer problems for friends and family. Like most engineers, I've been doing that for years while modestly accepting misdirected accolades like 'guru' and 'wizard' – which I'm not.

But sorting out computer problems, even at this casual level, has notably changed. The capabilities and engineering sophistication of PCs might have romped along at the frenetic and expected pace of Moore's Law, but most computer issues that now crop up don't reflect this linear improvement in technology. As a testament to its importance, the majority involve a problem with connectivity to the outside world. It's because in reality, this is now the most significant and important development in a PC's capability – and in fact, just about any electronic device or product.

The point is illustrated by a recent problem with an offspring's computer, which was unhelpfully reported as 'broken' and 'doesn't work'. As it turned out, everything was fine – no flames, no fumes and no fragments – except for internet access, which meant the machine was cut off from the outside world. "See dad, it doesn't work!" was the response. It did, an hour later, when our ISP had dealt with that great oxymoron of 'unplanned maintenance'.

The message here is that connectivity is now a fundamental part of how things work, or should work. Most people, and in particular those born in the last 20 years or so, don't regard connectivity as an enhancement or add on feature to their electronic lives. It's simply a universal and essential service, as you'd expect of the electricity or water supply, and things need to be plugged into it to work.

Internet access is only one manifestation of growing and ubiquitous connectivity. When electronic products can be connected to wider ecosystems, the functionality of that device is dramatically expanded by the external data exchange services it taps into. All applications from industrial and military through to medical and consumer fundamentally benefit from connectivity, which might be via wireless systems (Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, and so on) or direct wired connections (Ethernet, CAN bus, USB, and a host of industrial-strength variants).

With all applications, what's most important is not the actual connectivity mechanisms – the wires, circuitry and protocols that make it possible – but the software smarts behind that connectivity. In the same way as we derive value from a connected PC, the actual benefit this delivers to an end user is determined by application software. When developing electronic products, regardless of their area of application, we need to be able to focus first and foremost on that application software, then later, worry about what hardware and connectivity systems are needed to allow the application to do its job.

This is the reverse of a traditional hardware-first design methodology. It requires an electronics design system that supports a software-centric approach and provides ready-to-go, multi-domain IP blocks (where each includes hardware, embedded hardware and software) that can be dropped into a design at will. Valuable design time can then be spent on developing unique electronic products that tap into today's ubiquitous connectivity to deliver an end user experience that goes way beyond the physical device itself.

Rob Evans, technical editor, Altium

Supporting Information


Altium Ltd

This material is protected by Findlay Media copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.

Do you have any comments about this article?

Add your comments


Your comments/feedback may be edited prior to publishing. Not all entries will be published.
Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Related Articles

Hardened DSP blocks for FPGAs

Responding to the increasingly demanding task of designing floating point DSP ...

SKA telescope developments

UK-based start up Adaptive Array Systems (AASL) has been awarded a contract by ...

Fine pitch Cu bumps used

Altera says it is the first company to adopt TSMC's fine pitch copper bump ...

Connectors cut size, weight

Aerospace, whether it's commercial aviation, defence or even satellites, is a ...

Wise eyes in the sky

Most people's first encounter with an autogyro, or gyrocopter, was in the film ...

Software tools: Cost vs. value

Depending upon who you talk to and the scale of the design, software ...

NI Trend Watch 2014

This report from National Instruments summarises the latest trends in the ...

KeyStone software

This whitepaper explores how Texas Instruments' KeyStone multicore SoCs offload ...

Mobile OS architecture trends

In this whitepaper, Intel describes its investigations in the trends of mobile ...

Synchronous buck regulator IC

The A8672 from Allegro MicroSystems Europe is a synchronous buck regulator IC ...

Current sensing IC

International Rectifier has launched the IR25750, a general purpose current ...

Power management ICs

A new family of power management ICs, aimed at RF agile radio and FPGA based ...

Future World Symposium 2014

29th - 30th April 2014, Twickenham Stadium, London

Device Developers' Conference

20th May 2014, Holiday Inn, Bristol

Device Developers' Conference

22nd May 2014, Menzies Hotel, Cambridge

RFIC simplifies design process

Nikolaus Klemmer, High Speed Products, has been developing communcations ...

Self-destructing electronics

Researchers at Iowa State University have created transient electronics that ...

LightCrafter software upgrade

This video explains the steps needed to perform an upgrade of the LightCrafter ...

The Heartbleed glitch

Last week we were awakened to the news of a new software 'glitch' called ...

IoT: Making a difference

News stories about the Internet of Things (IoT) tend to focus on fun consumer ...

Small tech firms fight back

At the beginning of the year I attended the Scotland IS Technology Trends 2014 ...

Neelie Kroes, EC Commissioner

"The objective is to ensure that the semiconductor industry in Europe has the ...

Gregg Lowe, Freescale

Freescale's new ceo tells Graham Pitcher that, while he's not 'dancing' yet, ...

Menno Treffers, WPC chairman

There are now 110 consumer electronics products that are authorised by the ...