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Embedded designers face tighter schedule challenges

Posted: 08 Jul 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded designer? project schedule? software?

Juggling more projects this year, embedded systems developers say meeting schedules is their biggest task, according to the 2008 Embedded Market Study from TechInsights/Embedded Systems Design. Designers are reporting greater pressures to finish jobs, and more than 50 percent of projects are reported as late.

This year's survey reported the greatest percentage of new projects compared to product improvements since 2005. Some 46 percent of projects were described as "new from scratch," while 54 percent were upgrades or improvements. The type of improvements was dominated by new software features, in 81 percent of cases, followed by new processors in 55 percent, and new system logic in 39 percent of the project upgrades. Part of the dominance of software may reflect the high number of respondents (62 percent) involved in writing and/or debugging software and firmware.

Some 74 percent of projects offered real-time kernels or performance capabilities, and 61 percent involved networking. Ruggedization was involved in 47 percent of projects, while one-third of projects included either battery operation, wireless communications, or both. Among wireless projects, Wi-Fi interfaces were favored in 51 percent of designs, followed by Bluetooth (27 percent), cellular (21 percent), and Zigbee (21 percent).

While engineers report being busier and juggling more responsibilities, the average size of a design team actually grew from 2007 to 2008, averaging 13.6 and 15.2 people, respectively. In both years, software engineers significantly led over hardware and firmware engineers. In fact, 2008's average of 8.1 software engineers per team was almost double the 4.3 hardware engineers, and close to three times that of the 2.8 firmware engineers in a team.

Biggest challenge
Nearly two-thirds of respondents, some 65 percent, reported working on two or more projects simultaneously, with 13 percent working on more than three projects at once. One-third of respondents were working on a single project, while 2 percent were not working on an embedded project. The biggest concern in projects, named by 51 percent of respondents, was meeting schedules, followed by debugging (38 percent), code complexity (26 percent), and keeping cost estimates (24 percent).

A disturbing trend from last year has been an increase in mean time for project completion, corresponding with projects being late by a growing number of months. The mean time for a project in 2008 was 13.1 months, compared to 12.6 in 2007 (though this mean was 14 months in 2005 and 2006). The average lateness of a project in 2008, 4.4 months, was the highest in the last three years. Some 53 percent of all projects are completed late, though respondents reported 41 percent of projects completed on schedule, and 4 percent ahead of schedule.

Hardware, software trends
Software languages are overwhelmingly dominated by C (57 percent) and C++ (29 percent), with options such as Java, UML, and LabView mentioned by less than 5 percent of respondents. Software code re-use from previous projects was reported in 89 percent of all designs. Some 78 percent report no interest in using ESL tools.

In OS, commercial OS are moving down slowly as compared to custom OS, and embedded Linux also is trending down. Products from WindRiver and Microsoft dominate engineers' interests. Some 70 percent of designs use OS.

Engineers' greatest concerns for future projects center on debugging tools and software integration, yet their most important development tools are compilers and debuggers. They listed semiconductor technology as the greatest change to the design process in the past 20 years.

The full report provides details on respondents' choices of semiconductors and commercial software. Freescale Semiconductors dominates in the overall processor category, Texas Instruments in the DSP category, Microchip Technology in the 8- and 16bit MCU category, and Intel in 32bit categories. For the first time in four years, more respondents indicate they will try to avoid FPGAs (48 percent) than use them (52 percent), with the cost and power-dissipation of FPGAs listed as the two biggest negatives.

The full report will be offered for sale later this year at EE Times Market Intelligence Unit and Semiconductor Insights.

- Loring Wirbel
EE Times

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