Is the Maker movement changing Embedded design? An interview with Chris Rommel of VDC Research

As part of the preparation for the launch of the ARM Embedded Computing Board (ECB) resource guide, I spoke to Chris Rommel who is Vice President for IoT & Embedded Technology at Boston-based VDC Research.  Chris has deep knowledge of this industry and as expected I learned a lot.

I asked Chris about his take on the ARM architecture in the ECB market and he confirmed that it’s still primarily x86 based but ARM is growing quickly, albeit from a small base. Chris has just published his 2015 IoT & Embedded Hardware Platforms study and hinted that he is upwardly revising the ARM market share forecast. Chris and the VDC team have some excellent free research as well as paid reports on their site.

Chris sees the ECB landscape as changing due to several forces coming into play.  At the high end of the market where ECBs converge with industrial PC’s and servers, both HP and Dell have entered the market and will customize systems for customers including software integration and services.  This means that even the large ECB vendors have to compete for some of the smaller customers.  At the other end of the market there are many new ECB vendors entering with multi-core ARM based boards with some unique added value.

Another trend is the widespread move to Linux and Open Source in the Embedded market, with Android in particular becoming very popular at the high end especially in the ARM Cortex-A class boards that have the processor speed needed to run it.

An important insight that I picked up from Chris is that research he’s done with professional embedded developers shows 2/3’s of them are also hobbyists or Makers.  He believes (and I agree with him) that the experience Makers have with development boards they can rapidly prototype on, like Raspberry Pi and Arduino is having a knock on effect in the professional industry.

raspberry pi.jpg

Pictured:  Raspberry Pi 2 board, $35 open source fun for Makers and Professionals

This raises an interesting question about the rise of the IoT and how it will affect the traditional embedded market. Chris told me that Embedded is now essentially “Open Embedded “because developers whether professional, makers or IT have lots of hands on experience with open source and free software.  This trend to open source has been in play for many years  but a new cohort of developers who first came to hardware development (perhaps for IoT projects) using a low cost ARM based development board will be very comfortable with open source software and ARM hardware.

There are so many new ways to incorporate computing and intelligence into our world and the evolving ECB market is a major enabling technology.  Please tell us about your experience with ECBs and where you think the market is heading.

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  • Think back to the whole platforms genesis in SoC design a couple of decades ago; layer in software and--voila--you have the maker movement, overly simplified. I think it's a harbinger for a massive expansion (five years? 10 years from now?) in the served available market because access to design and the very act of electronics design will be so much less frictionless.

    Great piece, David! And cheers to the ECB concept!

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