There are three important steps associated with embedded product development: choosing the hardware platform, selecting the operating system, and creating the application software. These steps have a major impact on costs, performance, product quality, product longevity, and time to market.
Choosing the Right Hardware Platform
Key to successful embedded product development is choosing the right hardware platform, starting with the processor and extending to peripheral components. These decisions can have a profound effect on costs, both engineering and recurring. To make the right selection, you need to consider several key factors.
- Hardware availability: Will the hardware you choose be available over the life span of your product, potentially 5 or more years? Components intended for consumer markets, while often costing less than those offered for embedded long life applications, may cease production within two to three years and cause expensive redesigns or chronic supply chain headaches.
- Performance: Will the hardware meet all processing and bandwidth demands? The processor must be capable of executing the application within the time constraints allotted, and also feel responsive when interacting with a user. Performance benchmarking should be completed early in product development as a part of platform selection.
- Power consumption: Is platform power consumption low enough to accommodate battery operation use cases and achieve proper thermal management? To properly assess, product use cases must be defined that includes processor loading, peripheral operation, and other operations that significantly contribute to power consumption. That, along with battery operation time between charges, will help properly size a battery. Electronic component cooling must also be considered, to prevent overheating that may damage components or degrade product operation.
- Environmental: Will the hardware fully operate within harsh environments, including over wide temperature ranges? Industrial temperature (IT) components, typically rated to operate over a -40C to 85C temperature range, may be required for outdoor operation. IT components can often be found for integrated circuits. However, some crystals and radios can experience performance degradation at temperature extremes and may not be rated for full IT operations. Additionally, most flat panel displays cannot achieve -40C.
- Cost: Will the platform meet the product price targets? A technically sound design may cost too much to produce and thereby limit commercial success. Often, cost/feature tradeoffs must be considered within priority-defined use cases.
Also consider the different options for integration, including commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) single board computers (SBCs) and custom designs. There are advantages associated with each option. COTS SBCs can often be used as-is or with minor daughter card designs, minimizing design costs and associated time-to-market. Modified COTS and custom designs are optimized for unique product requirements, but involve added product development costs.
Selecting a Reliable Operating System
To cut back on development time and get your product to market faster, you need a trusted and reliable operating system. Embedded operating systems abstract the lower-level hardware functions, provide software-callable interfaces to the hardware, manage memory and application execution, and often implement a graphic user interface (GUI). The embedded operating system is usually customized for the hardware platform selected, and must reliable account for corner and specialty use cases, such as low power suspend/resume operations. Linux and Android have become increasingly popular embedded operating systems.
Creating the Application Software
The third and final step of embedded product development is creating the application software, which runs on top of the selected operating system. In an embedded product, reliability is paramount. Crashes are not acceptable; the software must account for all use cases, corner cases, and exceptions gracefully. The use of robust application development tools supported by the hardware vendor running the selected operating system are recommended.
If you follow these steps and choose an industry leader for your hardware and operating system platform, the embedded product development process will reduce cost, risk, and time to market. InHand Electronics is a trusted source for COTS single board computers and customized embedded computing platforms. Contact us today to find the right solution for your embedded product.