A New Approach to Hardware Debugging  – A Key Feature of 2010

Safety critical software, USB 3.0 and a new approach to hardware debugging were key features of 2010, according to embedded systems consultancy Pebble Bay. Despite recent economic gloom and concerns about a recession, Pebble Bay feel there is still much to be cheerful about over the past year.

“Ever since the Toyota story broke in the summer, there has been much more activity and concern around the safety implications of embedded software,” said Ian Willats Managing Director of Pebble Bay. “We are getting much more interest and quite precise and well-defined enquiries about this aspect of embedded system design. This is clearly an increasingly important consideration for embedded software across a wide range of applications.”

Pebble Bay is one of the world’s leading teams of consultants for the development of microprocessor-based systems (embedded systems). Working with a broad range of microprocessors, a wide knowledge of operating systems and a hardware and software integration capability, Pebble Bay works with manufacturers and developers around the world, helping them develop innovative and robust intelligent devices and systems.

Pebble Bay also reflects on 2010 to find that, although the political and economic environment caused many projects to be postponed or even cut, the second half of the year saw a newfound optimism and a substantial pick up in activity.

“In terms of new input/output technology, there is of course USB 3.0 over the horizon,” said Ian Willats. “It is still a little way off having an impact in the embedded space, however, there has been a lot of interest in USB 3.0 and we are ready for it. It has a lot of longterm potential for us as USB driver development and hardware integration is one of our key strengths.”

Another trend that Pebble Bay has picked up on over the last year is the continued focus on efficient low-cost development kits by microprocessor manufacturers. Microprocessor development boards are increasingly being delivered with embedded USB JTAG interfaces meaning that an engineer does not have to invest further money for a separate JTAG tool to start working with a new microprocessor such as TI Stellaris, TI MSP430 Launchpad, NXP LPCXpresso.

“This is a good trend for us,” said Ian. “We are usually working with several different microprocessors at any given time, so to have a dedicated and configured debug tool provided from the very start, helps to speed things along. Development tools have a big impact on the speed of development and the final quality of the software, so it’s very good news that the hardware suppliers are helping to bridge the hardware/software divide more effectively.”

A final trend that Pebble Bay has identified for 2010 has been that many developments have been driven by necessity, rather than market speculation. Rather than developing new products to be at the leading edge of technology with new feature and wider capabilities, it has been more a case of developments being driven by specific customer demands or component obsolescence.

“2010 has been another good year for us,” said Ian Willats. “2011 is looking promising. Over the past five years we have attracted a great team of engineers and an impressive customer base, so I feel that we are in robust shape and can look forward with a sense of optimism.”