From kindergarten to Kickstarter

Resurgence of the Do It Yourself (DIY) community has driven a range of open networking platforms, giving aspiring technologists cheap and easy access to embedded development. Outside of hobbyist toys and educational devices, however, “hacker” boards are increasing performance and I/O flexibility, and have become viable options for professional product development.

MinnowBoard is an Intel Atom-based platform equipped with interfaces like SATA, Gigabit Ethernet, and PCI Express, and is suited for applications such as Networking Attached Storage (NAS) and Network security, Garman says (Figure 3). “Professional embedded developers working on commercial products will like the fact that the MinnowBoard is open hardware, and can be customized without having to sign any Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs),” he adds.

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IT Technology for industrial controls

With that said, the controls world is going to be moving with anautomation that has a definite consumer bias, with product development and release cycles of six months or less. In an industry where the average life expectancy of an automotive production line is eight years, it is impossible to expect the networking in an industrial setting to keep up with modern IT standards. Therefore, we turn our attention to the technologies that have existed the industrial, with the most open standards and the very best support. These are the protocols we wish to use and keep, and this article highlights and explains some of these technologies. This article does not focus on the technical implementations of each piece of technology. Rather, it is assumed the reader will be using packaged solutions such as a function block for a PLC.

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Associated complexity of wide application

In the early days of embedded Linux development (circa Y2K), a significant part of the embedded computer was to port the open source code to run on the hardware platform being targeted. Unless engineers were running code on an Intel x86 board, it was not a trivial effort to develop the embedded computer and cross-compile the open source middleware to run on the hardware. In the years since, an increasing number of hardware companies have discovered that providing free Linux BSPs is necessary to ensuring the wide adoption of their hardware into embedded applications. Whereas in the early days it might have taken weeks or months to get to a Linux shell prompt over a console port, these days it should only take a few hours.

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