The new era of embedded Internet

DQW Bureau
New Update


Today, 90 percent of the microprocessors shipped are used in embedded systems and an average number of microprocessors found at homes exceed 50. Although one might argue about the validity of these numbers, the fact still remains that the actual number is many. Yet, if we ask people "how many computers they use at home?" most you will answer ONE, referring to the PC they have at home.

We have discussed in the past how PC has given visibility to embedded systems in recent days. However, the invisibility of embedded systems is what contributed the most to the proliferation while limiting awareness. We are comfortable using them in VCR, microwave, washing machine, phone, calculator, car, etc unaware of the hidden miracle technology that has become a central part of our daily lives.

Interestingly enough, recent studies estimate the average number of microprocessors at home to reach 200 marks in 3 to 4 years.


Increasing world's microprocessor consumption three fold in less than five years as suggested by most studies seems impossible as it will take a large number of new inventions to spur that level of proliferation. Experts believe that "Embedded Internet", a marriage of embedded systems and Internet technology, are the two highly successful miracle technologies that will be largely responsible for the increase.

Factors that will contribute to the success of Embedded Internet

Rapid adoption of pervasive computing


This is the concept that excites most embedded systems developers today. A Webopedia definition of the phrase "pervasive computing" reads as following: "It is the idea that almost any device, from clothing to tools to appliances to cars to homes to the human body to your coffee mug, can be imbedded with chips to connect the device to an infinite network of other devices. The goal of pervasive computing, which combines current network technologies with wireless computing, voice recognition, Internet capability and artificial intelligence, is to create an environment where the connectivity of devices is embedded in such a way that the connectivity is unobtrusive and always available".

The keywords to note here are "Infinite network of other devices" which is the Internet, and "imbedded with chips" ie the embedded micro controllers, and "connectivity of devices is embedded" will amount to the Embedded Internet.

We have only seen the tip of Internet iceberg


Internet has changed how we work, shop and communicate with our friends and families. It provides access to an astounding wealth of information. But, it is still a long way from touching all our lives like a TV remote control and microwave oven has. Recent studies indicate that by 2003 the number of devices on the Net would be more than the number of people. These studies are based on actual trends in consumer appetite for Internet connected devices rather than gut feeling.

When technocrats and consumers are excited, possibilities are high provided the social and technical challenges are addressed on time.

The social challenges


For pervasive computing to take its toll in the home front, we will need the devices to be meaningful, inexpensive and as easy to use as any of the gadgets available today. For example, a home user is more likely to electronically shop while sitting in a couch watching TV rather than cooking. That means TV remote control is more suitable for electronic shopping application than a device built in to the cooking range. However, it does not mean it is meaningless for a cooking range to be networked. Let's say you are going on a long vacation and 50-kilometer from the road you suddenly realize you might have left your cooking range on. How about dialing in to your home server and sending a command to the networked cooking range to shut it off rather than returning back 50 kilometer to find that you actually had it off? It is hard to realize the importance of these aspects till you live in a wooden house in the West and actually meet one of many individuals who have done it.

Once you identify the meaningful solutions, the economics of it plays a bigger role. Will you be willing to pay through your nose to break in to the technology described above? Most people will probably not.

Finally, ease of use is what makes and breaks such implementation. A TV remote control that requires installing a driver, setting up IP addresses, device numbers etc is probably going to be a piece of toy for you and me but not for an average home user.


The technical challenges

Infrastructure availability

The Internet infrastructure is stable, and improvements are under way to accommodate the enormous increase in the number of Internet-connected nodes. Affordable software and hardware technologies are available today to easily create an embedded system and add Internet-connectivity to any such device. Innovations in cellular connectivity, and wireless technologies such as Bluetooth are hoping to pave the way for greater network capability of devices.



Even after more than 20 years of innovation, I have to sometimes use ALT to get out of a deadlock in my latest technology PC but I don't remember a single instance of doing it to my telephone. Therefore, developer of pervasive computing devices will face the greater challenge of adhering to the reliability and up-time requirement of such devices, and not compromise on these features consumers are used to for the sake of Internet enabling them using embedded Internet technology.

Automatic configurability

When is the last time you had to configure your refrigerator, toaster oven, microwave and similar devices around the home? For that matter, did you ever notice how your mobile phone with roaming facility automatically connects you to the nearest network when you travel? It is needless to say that configuration requirements of an embedded device are a lot different from a computer such as PC. It is almost NIL, which poses a different kind of challenge to embedded systems developers.


Security and privacy issues related to Internet usage are not new to us. This will only compound when Internet crosses our PC and enters our home to the home devices. While the convenience of affordable and reliable Internet enabled devices at home will entice people to think about using them, security and privacy concerns, and the fear of outsiders getting in to monitoring their personal lives could be a potential barrier to their acceptance unless addressed properly.

DP Samantarai

(The author is a technocrat and aspiring entrepreneur with 18 years of expertise in embedded systems and Internet technologies. Prior to starting his company in wireless embedded area recently, he was the CEO of Purpleyogi Software.)