One of the most appealing aspects of embedded computers is the fact that there is still enormous potential for future research and development, in addition to new applications. In 2018, we will see a number of trends in addition to the always-important considerations of size, weight, and power. We will also see embedded computing trends that touch the areas of network and cybersecurity, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), products with increased longevity, and a continued move from programmable logical controllers (PLCs) to industrial PCs as a primary control system.
Network and Cybersecurity
This year will emphasize the critical interest that commercial and industrial customers have in securing their networks and data assets, continuing a trend that becomes more essential over time. With respect to the constant threats posed by cyberattacks, the focus of attention in 2018 will primarily be on cyber protection for Industrial Control Systems (ICS), especially for such high-value assets as utilities, power grid substations, water plants, and wind farms. In short, there will be considerable attention paid to any kind of high-value system performing a critical, broad-interest function, and which might be exposed to the elements.
An interesting development is the potential for creating intelligent embedded computers that take advantage of ‘fog computing,’ an extension of the cloud computing metaphor that relates to the distribution of stored files and addresses latency and intermittency issues. In remote cloud computing, files are stored on servers that are presumably safeguarded against most cyberattacks, but there is still a possibility of having data hijacked, ransomed, or corrupted by the criminal-minded hacker. In fog computing, there is never a complete file available on any single server, but the file would be dispersed in packets, across several servers. The advantage to this configuration is that only a legitimate user could have the know-how to reassemble a file back to completeness. This exciting technology holds the promise of providing a virtual defense from cyberattacks, and would make the IIoT considerably safer.
The IIoT Move to Next-Level Industrial Automation
Although the Internet of Things (IoT) has long since established its popularity and pervasiveness in consumer technology, industrial applications and opportunities are only now coming to the forefront, and that will comprise another of the dominant 2018 trends in embedded computing. The move from PLCs to PC types of architectures is being spurred on by the next generation of machinery and equipment, which requires more flexibility and intelligence than the traditional PLC micro-controller can provide.
IIoT applications require real-time connectivity without latency or intermittent connectivity issues, as well as industrial-grade equipment that can handle a factory environment, which means that hardware quality must be much higher than it typically is for consumer products. Processors built in 2018 will enable more and better industrial applications by combining hardware, data processing, data analytics, and data storage in a physically close configuration that will provide cutting-edge industrial technology. From this, you can expect compact but full-featured CPUs in embedded computing products, which can vastly expand the capabilities of factory automation and the IIoT.
Moving Away from PLC Toward PC Controllers
PLCs are the go-to choice for control systems used by intelligent machines, since they could be dedicated to manage a limited number of tasks, allowing for streamlining and the ability to withstand all manner of industrial intrusions such as high vibration, contamination, and electromagnetic interference. However, in the coming year we will see the continuing trend for many PLC capabilities to be included in PC construction, as well as some even stronger advantages that will be provided by PCs.
One of the most significant advantages of using PCs for industrial control in intelligent machines is that they can help to make them much less prone to becoming quickly outdated, and requiring early replacement. PCs provide better handling of emerging technology for high-resolution imaging and Human-Machine Interface (HMI) requirements. They also offer more flexible handling of current and future I/O requirements, using techniques like software-defined PLC controllers and virtualization techniques provided by multi-core processors. For high performance applications, PCs can generally accomplish required tasks at a significantly lower cost than EPCs. Finally, the cost of expansion is generally lower with PCs since they have built-in architecture for expansion.
Synchronization of the Embedded-Computing Roadmap with Intel Longevity Plans
Computer chip giant Intel is currently revamping the lifetime availability of its embedded microchip processors targeted for industrial use, from the present seven-year standard to a full 15 years—a move that more than doubles the longevity of some of its current products. The Intel E3800-series embedded Atom processors are the first to be designated for 15-year availability, and this could be a tremendous boon to manufacturing companies that can take advantage of the much longer life provided by its embedded computing products.
This will undoubtedly trigger a huge trend toward synchronizing hardware and other components with the extended longevity of the embedded microprocessor, so that the entire end-product can have that same promise of long life. That will call for an upgrade in the standards of many of these components, with the net result being an embedded computing product, which will survive all the wear and tear of daily usage for a full 15-year period.
Filed Under: Industrial automation, Cybersecurity, PCs