Keynotes & Top Three at ESC

The Embedded Systems Conference, UK was held in a new location of FIVE at Farnborough, home to the famous airshow. The conference keynotes featured two Q&A panels. The first was a set of CEO’s discussing ‘The State of Microelectronics’. They discussed high level issues such as the current state of education in delivering the next-generation embedded engineers. One interesting aspect highlighted by Mark Robson, CEO of Freescale Semiconductors was how the new breed of engineers graduating will be much more suited to collaboration and working remotely thanks to the influence of social networking. Interesting side benefit from the likes of facebook, twitter & co!

The second keynote, ‘The State of Embedded’ was focused more on engineering trends including the old language debate of C vs C++. Niall Cooling of Feabhas mused on the point that there should be more uptake of Java for embedded but there are still barriers out there, particularly with issues such as the non-deterministic behaviour or garbage collection. You can’t very well have your deeply embedded device pause for a moment while GC runs.

Both the keynotes highlighted some interesting discussion points. On the whole, I felt they could have benefited from being a bit more structured and was a bit disappointed that there was not more talk about the future direction of the embedded space.

I attended quite a few of the conference sessions. Some of the sessions suffered due to the presenters attempting too cover too much rather than just sticking to the remit of the talk (after all who wants to keep hearing about waterfall models). Three of the best sessions I attended were:

1. “Implemening a Memory Manager for Small Footprint Embedded Systems” by Michel de Champlain of Deep Object Knowledge.
Michel gave an interesting, technical talk about a low footprint deterministic memory allocator for small embedded processors. I could immediately see how this could be very useful to our clients.

2. “Understanding Quality” by Glennan Carnie of Feabhas.
This was a very well presented session of which the key take-away was the ‘Quality Triangle’. The triangle consists of three measures of quality: Customer perceived, Intrinsic and Compliance-based. Quality of products are measured using one or more of these measures depending on the situation. In our experience, many embedded companies rely on customer-perceived quality. This is okay until the product gets used by a larger set of customers or used for a slightly different purpose. Having good intrinsic quality allows quick and less expensive adaptation to continue to achieve the desired customer-perceived quality.

3. “Tips and Tricks for Debugging In The Trenches” by Greg Davis of Green Hills Software.
This talk included a series of advanced debugging features that are not often used, but could be very effective in the right situation. It was presented by the head of the compiler group so very relevant to me as a compiler-writer. The most interesting feature was the advanced ‘scripted breakpoints’ which allow you to automatically run a few commands every time a certain breakpoint is hit. Its nice to see that GDB is keeping up with the commercial debuggers, now that Python is integrated into GDB.

In addition to those sessions there was also the latest and greatest from many exhibitors to partake in. On a less positive note, while the new location was convenient to travel to, unfortunately the centre did not provide the best venue for the conference talks. The talks suffered from a high level of ambient noise from the exhibition floor. It made listening to the talks difficult and a poor environment for interacting. Fortunately the organizers are well aware of this and will aim to improve on this for upcoming conferences. All in all, ESC UK was worthwhile, and we look forward to a new improved ESC UK next year.

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