By: Pete Yeatman, COTS Journal
My first industry conference was the National Computer Conference (NCC) in 1978. Every year thereafter I would attend that conference or others. Conferences would come and go as the industry changed, and my selection of conferences changed as my focus within the industry shifted. Conferences have always been a great way to keep track of what is going on in the industry. Too often though we don’t realize that they provide industry data on many levels. Often we get trapped into focusing on the “Moore’s Law” technology changes and don’t see the bigger changes. We only see what boards or systems are using the latest, greatest chip technology with the latest speed increase. We even notice what new standards or architectures are being implemented and by whom.
Conferences tell us more than the functionality of technology and its implementation—they convey shifts on a bigger scale. The NCC supported the minicomputer market. Along came Comdex, which was the real venue for the birth of the embedded computing (remember the S-100 bus?) and PC market. At this time we also saw the introduction of conferences that focused on different elements of the industry, like communications. If we stand back and look at conferences and their pattern of success and failure, we can also get a better understanding of the more global shifts in the market. Unless we really try hard, we miss this important element when we attend a conference year after year. Our focus is too narrow and all we see are incremental technology changes.
Our most recent visit to I/ITSEC (Interservice/Industry, Training, Simulation, Education Conference—that’s a mouthful) was a revelation to us. The change was probably more evident to our editorial team than it was to other attendees because we focus on system make up, not the application. We’ve been attending the conference for about four years. It’s a great place to investigate the implementation and utilization of embedded electronics for the military and severe environment applications. Over the span of our visits we’ve had the ability to absorb how quickly the end use simulation market has been changing. The most recent austerity for non-essential spending by the military may have helped this. This year there seemed to be less uniformed personnel in attendance and less “in the field” training systems on display—systems designed to be deployed in rear areas with the troop. There were still small arms fire training displays and cockpit simulators, but systems seemed smaller and more compact.
It wasn’t until the middle of our first day that we realized we were experiencing a major change in the simulation industry. In previous years we encountered systems containing more dedicated hardware in order to achieve the desired performance. This year the “vast” majority of the applications just used off-the-shelf flat screen displays and PCs. Although many systems stacked the PCs in racks, there was a large contingent where the ganged PCs were free standing, or even laptops. This was clear evidence that the consumer demand for life-like interactive video games along with performance demands of the PC had clearly permeated the simulation market. The critical element that suppliers are now providing to the simulation market is the man-machine interface. The includes the actuators converting physical movement into electronic signals, and the software to create the visual display and the response by the operator.
How will what was on the floor at I/ITSEC this year portend for the simulation market? This market will see more and more new suppliers as packaged software content in systems increases, reducing the cost of market entry. When you sell a quantity of a system, the application software is a one-time expense and can be modified for other product. In contrast, the man-machine interface, which is a recurring expense, will continue to be costly. Although the largest target market at this conference is the military, we’ve already seen a large number of systems offered for fire, police, crane operators, and so on. The range of simulation tools expands every year and we will see product offerings for virtually every market that requires some form of thought and a physical response. I don’t think it will be long before every secondary school will have simulators for driver education.
Not all conferences wither and die as major market and technology shifts take place. If we look at a market from 10,000 feet rather than up close, through vehicles like conferences, we should be able to see major shifts in markets and technology. Some conferences are unable to adjust, and new ones take center stage. Others recognize the changes and adjust. I/TSEC is one of those that appears to have the ability to change as technology and the market shift. There may also be some things that the overall embedded market can learn from what is happening in the simulation market. 2007 could be a very exciting year…Oh, and Happy New Year from our COTS Journal team.
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