2012 Top Embedded Innovator - Software: Sebastien Marineau-Mes, Senior VP of Engineering, QNX Software Systems

June 01, 2012

2012's Top Embedded Software Innovator, Sebastian Marineau-Mes of QNX Software Systems, gives his perspective on embedded software and projects its ro...



ECD: What emerging trends and challenges do you see in embedded design?

MARINEAU-MES: Mobile technologies will increasingly influence both the design and functionality of embedded systems. In fact, application environments and processors originally developed for smartphones and tablets are already finding their way into a broader range of devices with wireless or Wide Area Network (WAN) interfaces, including cars and medical devices. Even the way we interact with embedded systems is being influenced by the touch user interfaces pioneered in the mobile industry. Mobile networks and technologies are also key enablers of Machine-to-Machine (M2M), which has become the new watchword in the embedded industry.

As for challenges, managing system complexity will remain paramount. This complexity will be fed by several factors, including greater demand for system consolidation and the growing proliferation of multicore processors.

ECD: Which engineering specialties are most valuable to your company, and are they difficult to find?

MARINEAU-MES: As an OS vendor, QNX Software Systems depends on a range of specialists, from kernel architects to user interface designers. But developers who understand the entire software stack are especially valuable. The more you understand the entire stack, the better you can pinpoint the most elegant and innovative place to implement a feature or optimize performance. These generalists, for lack of a better term, can be the hardest to find. That aside, we still need people strong in C and C++. And we’re always on the lookout for anyone with skills in Bluetooth, HTML5, Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), multimedia, Near Field Communication (NFC), networking, OpenGL, WebGL, power management, and USB.

ECD: What is your assessment of the demand for ubiquitous connectivity, and how does it affect your product development plans?

MARINEAU-MES: The demand is huge and will continue to grow. Consumers have become conditioned to always being connected, and their expectations are exerting pressure even on automakers, who now promote connectivity more than horsepower when marketing their products.

Ubiquitous connectivity involves three things: content, context, and communication. Content is what you consume: music, news, video, and the like. Context is your representation in the “e-world”; it’s what follows you from system to system, ensuring seamless access to your content. Communication is the underlying plumbing: IP, WAN, and so on. Now imagine when all this comes together in, say, your car. The car navigation system can blend content from your phone and the cloud to learn where you need to go (based on your contacts), when you need to arrive (based on your calendar), and how best to get there (based on live traffic feeds). Enabling this kind of connected experience through networking, WAN support, and other technologies guides much of our product development.

ECD: How will embedded computing advance in the next 5-10 years?

MARINEAU-MES: I see an ongoing battle between standardization and fragmentation. Yes, industry standards will play a greater role, but the temptation to deviate from them will remain strong. Take HTML5, for example. It lets you build rich, dynamic applications and user interfaces that can run on multiple types of devices without significant re-engineering. It also has the support of a large developer community and frees you from vendor lock-in. So, without question, it will become the user interface platform for many embedded projects.

But at the same time, everyone wants to add value, whether to optimize their products for specific applications or to achieve market differentiation. This is where deviation from standards creeps in. Much the same dynamic is at play in the hardware world. Silicon vendors constantly strive to differentiate themselves and, as a result, we will continue to see processors with more cores, more specialized hardware acceleration, and higher on-chip integration.