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Abundant Chips

Of course, I'm talking about ubiquitous computing, the processors and programs buried inside our clock radios, our microwaves, our telephones, and our tape recorders where they faithfully listen for our touch pad whims and wishes, translating them into infrared pulses or control levels for some device or another. If your car is a typical late model, it alone could have a dozen programmed processors in it, and that's discounting the cell phone you may have used on the way to work. A touch on the “TALK” button and you link through a long chain of concealed computers, starting with the one in the cellular tower itself and ending with one inside the digital branch exchange at your client's office. This is the world of embedded system applications, where computers hide away in various guises and seem to be doing everything but computing. Embedded apps sometimes make the rest of the world of software development look like the bush leagues by comparison.

The computers on which embedded applications run may themselves seem small and insignificant, hidden away inside CD players or children's toys, but the programming is not. There can be millions of lines of C embedded in a color laser copier, thousands of Smalltalk classes awaiting instantiation within a lab oscilloscope. In most of these applications, the demands for precision, accuracy, repeatability, and reliability are substantial. A bug can make its presence known in the most visible, embarrassing, and even dangerous ways when the programming controls an x-ray machine or an industrial robot or a car. Add to this the need for real-time performance that is characteristic of many areas of application, and the bar is raised yet another notch.


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