Top tech trends of 2013

4 min read

Mike Powell, technical development manager for element14, provides an overview of the technology developments that had the biggest impact on the electronics industry in 2013.

2013 was undoubtedly the year of the development kit, with countless new and exclusive collaborations opening up many new opportunities for developers. Raspberry Pi's unrelenting pace didn't subside and 2013 was certainly the year of the accessory, opening up the board for numerous applications. Finally, wearable technology has brought our clothing to life and home automation means appliances that have long been fairly unintelligent are now making our homes smarter. As part of the design process when developing a new product, engineers must build prototypes to test out their concepts and develop a final product. One of the main development tools an engineer uses to speed up the process is a dev kit. The fascinating trend that has been evolving is the types and usages of these dev kits outside of the professional engineer's workspace. Manufacturers have realised that many users simply want to try out a product, but do not want to invest a lot of money for a full featured dev kit. The LPCXpresso from NXP and the Discovery series from STMicroelectronics are examples of low cost kits that allow users to evaluate their microcontrollers for little cost. Likewise, many manufacturers are now developing lower cost base boards and allowing users to choose which type of product or additional functionality they need by adding on accessory boards that are designed to 'plug' into the baseboard. Examples include Freescale's Tower platform, Texas Instruments' LaunchPads and BoosterPacks, Atmel's STK600 and Microchip's PICtail add-on boards. Another type of dev kit that has been gaining popularity is the Single Board Computer (SBC). An SBC features a processor that has the ability to run an operating system and has inputs and outputs that allow it to function as a stand-alone computer. The rise of two SBCs in particular; the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone, have driven dramatic interest in this type of dev kit. Single board computers are reaching out into the community and increasingly electronics are not just found in labs but in homes as well. The Raspberry Pi is a great example of this trend. Raspberry Pi celebrated its first birthday in 2013 and was presented with a rather impressive cake in the shape of the little green board. Not only was the first birthday celebrated in 2013 but one million of the B boards were manufactured at the Sony plant in Wales. It has been an incredible year for Pi and the enthusiasm hasn't dwindled. The ecosystem of Pi accessories grew considerably in 2013, giving it some impressive additional capabilities. Pi is no longer just about Linux programming; it has given the home engineer a connection to the physical world. Giving an eye to the camera, the camera Pi was launched back in June with the winner of our social media competition sending his into space to photograph the UK. Later in the year the Pi NoIR was like a shot of carotene for the Pi and allowed it to see in the dark. PiFace recently launched the Control and Display, which provides users with buttons and a navigation wheel to control applications, and an LCD display to show menus and status information as well as an infra-red receiver to allow applications to be controlled by IR remote controls. Combining the camera interface with the Control and Display allowed the creator of the PiFace Andrew Robinson to build the impressive 48 piece rig called 'Bullet Time'. The effect, called Bullet Time, or Time-slice, consists of taking a number of pictures from multiple cameras at the same time, but playing them back one after another. Because all the frames are taken at exactly the same time from different views but shown in order, it gives the effect of moving around a scene while time is frozen. M2M technology is a key topic for element14 this year and next. As M2M devices become wireless and small, it opens up the opportunity for wearable technology and clothing will adapt. The 'Get Closer' wearable technology challenge on the element14 Community attracted the highest number of entrants of any challenge – 121 – and was won by a woman, another first for community challenges. Using the Adafruit FLORA, design engineers and hobbyists alike were challenged to design a wearable project. Estimates show consumers will spend between $6 and $50billion on wearable technology in the next five years. First generation wearables such as the Pebble watch and Google Glass have paved the way, and the FLORA provides a more accessible way for anyone to start creating their own wearable technology products. The connected home segment of the home automation market is expected to grow from $300million in 2013 to $1.5bn in 2017, demonstrating huge potential for innovation and development. The Cypress Semiconductor PSoC4 Pioneer Kit is an easy to use inexpensive dev kit that enables the user to create unique designs for home automation. The element14 Community has hosted a number of design challenges throughout 2013 and the Smarter Life Challenge, a global design competition which uses the Cypress PSoC 4 Pioneer Kit will encourage participants to develop products for use in the field of industrial automation. As we move into 2014, the field of M2M technology and the Internet of Things will remain at the forefront of our minds and element14 will continue to invest in new technology. Dev kits will remain a strategic focus for the business as the first stage in the design cycle and we will continue to expand to support engineers from design through to production in the mid to low volume space. Raspberry Pi goes from strength to strength and we look forward to celebrating the two year anniversary of the product as well as the next milestone in manufacture. We will also continue to collaborate with our supplier partners to create new and exclusive accessories.