To provide products with new features enabling them to stand out on the market is possible thanks to embedded systems. These programmable electronic devices built into products and which control one or more of their functions allow significant innovations to be provided in terms of monitoring, supervision, control, automation or energy management, for example.
More and more products have these small computing systems that provide them with distinctive, advanced features that would not be possible through other solutions.
Every day we interact with dozens of embedded systems that control the generation and distribution of the electrical power that reaches our homes, the functioning of our domestic appliances, the machines in our companies, and the various functions of the transport systems we use.
They are present in practically all the industrial and services sectors. Owing to the competitiveness they provide and their applicability, not only regional, national and European institutions but also companies are driving forward R&D in this field in a decisive way.
“Companies need to differentiate themselves from their competitors so that they can stand out on the market, so it is no surprise that they are increasingly committing themselves to embedded systems, as this move allows them to equip their products with more features, connectivity, energy efficiency, security/safety, dependability and maintainability,” says Jon Pérez, who is responsible for the line of research in this field at IK4-IKERLAN.
A commitment by IK4-IKERLAN
Aware that embedded systems were destined to be a breakthrough technology, IK4-IKERLAN committed itself to exploring them ever since the centre was set up more than 40 years ago. Since then, it has been acquiring considerable experience thanks to which it has become a national and European benchmark owing to its trajectory, the excellence of its researchers, its critical mass, its international network of collaborators and, in particular, owing to its work with companies that are leaders in their respective markets.
Today, over 100 people make up the group of researchers who are developing, in collaboration with companies, innovative solutions involving embedded systems. These solutions address the whole value chain. They start with connected micro-sensorics that can provide companies with new data on customer behaviour in any hostile industrial environment (the so-called Internet of Things). They include dependable, secure, hard/soft embedded platforms and robust wireless communications offering this new industrial network intelligence and communication, and mass data mining techniques (big data) and associated technologies (cloud computing) that allow the most to be made of the new embedded technologies, thanks to the setting up of new services. This technological vertical integration makes it possible to come up with comprehensive solutions for the Advanced Manufacturing, Transport, Elevation and Energy sectors, among others.
IK4-IKERLAN has been collaborating with companies such as CAF, Orona, Alstom, Fagor Automation, Ulma, Ingeteam, Ikusi, Laulagun, and others in an ongoing way for more than 10 years, developing new generations of products and services through embedded systems. The economic impact of this activity on companies over the last 5 years has amounted to € 15 M and the investment made by IK4-Ikerlan in this field during this period has come to more than € 5 M.
Developments of partial or complete embedded solutions of a collaborative or turnkey nature plus the pre-approval regulations and the functional safety certification are taking place at IK4-IKERLAN; there are reengineering projects and improvement of equipment and products; projects to increase productivity and the introduction of life cycles, among other things.
“We are specialists in the development of embedded systems and in each of their technological disciplines: hardware, VHDL hardware description language and software. We develop secure/safe, dependable, robust, maintainable embedded systems that offer solutions for real-time communications, fieldbuses, wireless communications in hostile environments and M2M or machine-to-machine communications,” says Pérez.
The centre not only transfers technology to companies, it also carries out important research work enabling it to remain at the forefront of the technology in this field.
An example of this is IK4-IKERLAN’s participation in European projects, such as the FP7-Multipartes one which it is leading and in which the necessary technology is being developed to incorporate a whole host of embedded control systems with various degrees of criticality into a single multicore platform, or in projects funded by the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community such as Efitrans devoted to the transport sector.
The technological race to develop better products can only speed up over the coming years. The demand for more intelligent, more dependable, more interconnected or greener systems is set to grow in the future, and at IK4-IKERLAN they are prepared to tackle these challenges.
“I am in no doubt whatsoever that embedded systems will be playing a key role in the competitiveness of companies, as they will allow new functions to be incorporated together with the advances in other technological fields,” says Perez.
Apart from the above-mentioned possibilities, these technologies are opening up huge opportunities in the field of servitization, in other words, the development of new services related to products. Companies will therefore have an immense field of opportunities for adding value to the offer made to their customers.
Another future field of application will arrive with the expected bursting onto the scene of the technology known as the ‘Internet of Things’. This will allow objects used on a daily basis to be connected with each other over the Internet and this has the potential to revolutionise the way we interact with them.