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Embedded Systems Take Off

by Glen Emerson Morris

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As Nobel-laureate Murray Gell-Mann described it at the 2002 Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco, embedded systems is about putting a computer in a bed so the bed automatically moves to best enhance the activities that any couple on the bed may be engaging in (to put it tactfully). The concept extends to more than beds of course, but properly done, it's clear why this technology will be a winner.

Judging from the products presented at the 2002 Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco, embedded systems are ready for a number of advertising & marketing applications for the small to mid-sized business, ranging from desktop kiosks to Internet connected coffee makers.

The history of embedded systems goes back at least to the sixties, but the expense and limitations of the early systems limited their use. Embedded systems really took off in 1992, when the PC/104 Consortium was founded by Ampro, RTD, and other manufacturers. The group established a format for Intel microprocessors based on a motherboard approximately four inches square, and just under an inch high. The boards were stackable, allowing a very powerful computer to be assembled in a box approximately four inches square, or even less.

The PC/104 was initially targeted at military and medical markets, where it became widely used and respected. When the processor power increased enough to handle multimedia applications, PC/104-based kiosks became possible, and eventually common.

Today, there are estimated to be well over 100 different companies making PC/104 products. There are PC/104 cards to add ethernet, FireWire, hard drives, RAM drives, video cards, audio cards, general I/O, flash cards, modems, GPS, cellular telephone, wireless Internet, and more, to the PC/104 motherboard of your choice. Some off-the-shelf PC/104 cases can handle up to 13 or more cards, so your budget is your only constraint.

Kiosk development software is also progressing. Amulet Technologies ( demonstrated a system that will allow LCD touchscreens to be programmed in HTML. Since it usually takes C++ programming and several months to program a touchscreen interface, the Amulet Technologies system is a major breakthrough. In addition to saving time and money, the technology leaves the interface design to an HTML layout artist, not an engineer. (We managed to program a simple interface with it in less than fifteen minutes from the time we opened the box.) It would be easy and economical to use this technology to make an interface for a hot tub, or a table-top ordering system for customers at restaurants.

Interestingly, many of the exhibitors at the 2002 Embedded Systems Conference, were marketing systems much smaller than the PC/104 format. In fact, some of the exhibitors were just selling chips, primarily to add Internet connectivity to products ranging from cars to coffee makers.

Microchip design has advanced so far over the last few years that it's now possible to build a complete computer system on a chip, including wireless Internet connectivity. These chips can easily be added to thousands of products, and soon will be.

It is unavoidable that computers will continue to become cheaper, smaller and more powerful, and that eventually they will be inexpensive enough to put in nearly every product, including soda straws and matchbooks. In addition, nearly all computer equipped products will have some kind of access to either local networks, or the Internet.

Imagine a bathroom shower that will maintain exactly whatever water temperature you tell it to maintain. Aside from meaning no child would ever be accidentally scalded in a bathtub again, this would also mean more efficient and comfortable showers. A computer equipped bathtub would also be smart enough to turn it self off before it overflowed, and send you e-mail to let you know when your bath was ready.

Over the next decade, many common household items will be given embedded systems, reinventing them, and changing forever how we interface with them.

Like desktop publishing, and later the Internet, embedded systems is a technology that will fundamentally, and permanently, change the way advertising and marketing works. It will also permanently change the kind of products that are made, and how they are made.

It's about time, too. For all the benefits industrialization has brought, it has also brought a host of problems as well. The problems go beyond VCR's and microwaves that take an engineering degree to program.

For several hundred years, man has increasingly adjusted life to fit the needs of industrialization and the corporate structure that has grown to support it. In the process, we've become slaves of the machines built to sustain us, and some would argue, slaves to the system itself.

The development of intelligent products, and intelligent product marketing, made possible by embedded systems, will at least offer the possibility of a world where machines exist for the convenience of people, and not the reverse. Given the tools we have now, this kind of dream is no longer impossible.

The rise of embedded systems marks a new phase in industrialization. We've mechanized civilization. Now we have to civilize mechanization.

Note: To help our industry learn to use embedded systems for marketing & advertising purposes, we've launched a new Website, appropriately named The site will feature information on new embedded systems technologies, and how to use them. We hope you will find the site useful.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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