PCs are spreading their wings. Not only are they sitting on millions of
desktops and laptops in businesses, homes, and schools, but they're hiding in
such applications as vending machines, laboratory instruments, and
communications and medical devices.
Using the IBM PC architecture, embedded-system designers can reduce development costs, risks, and time to market. If the target system is truly PC compatible, they know their software will run after they write it on the desktop. Another critical advantage: The PC's widely available hardware and software usually prove far more economical than those of traditional embedded buses, such as the STD, VME, and Multibus.
Putting a PC to bed. You can embed a PC two ways: Use a PC motherboard, or buy a single-board computer designed for embedding. Most designers opt for the second route. Standard PC motherboards and associated card cages and backplanes contain too much bulk for most embedded control applications.
So companies such as Ampro, WinSystems, and Epson have miniaturized the PC-without losing any of its functionality. These boards range from 80386-, 80486-, and Pentium-based units, nearly identical to the motherboard versions, to the lower-end 8088, 80186, and 80268 boards, which are more specialized.
Torrance, CA-based Epson has shrunk the PC motherboard into a package the size of a credit card. Ampro Computers, Sunnyvale, CA, originated the PC/104 form factor, which WinSystems in Arlington, TX, and other companies also offer. These modules measure 3.6 x 3.8 inches (about the size of a 5.25-inch floppy-disk drive), and can be stacked and connected through a PC-compatible bus. In addition to CPU modules, PC/104 modules drive displays, accept PCMCIA cards, and add serial ports. They also attach to non-PC/104 boards that have the 104-pin connectors.
In tune with the electronics industry, embedded PCs continue to get smaller, faster, and cheaper. Designers are already embedding Pentiums and taking advantage of the PCI bus to move 32-bit data.
One place PCs are hiding is in airplanes. ARNAV Systems, Inc., Pu-yallup, WA, supplies the ICDS 2000 Integrated Avionics SmartSuite for the ST-50 aircraft. The single-pilot, 5-seat, all-weather business executive aircraft will sell for about $1,000,000. Designed by Cirrus Design Corp., Duluth, MN, it's made in Tel-Hai, Israel, by Israviation, a subsidiary of Luxembourg-based Euroaviation SA Holding. The company expects FAA certification of the aircraft in 1996.
In the ST-50, the ICDS 2000 serves as an instrument panel, and is controlled by a CoreModule/486 from Ampro Computers, Inc. The panel will have four 8 x 6-inch LCDs: the left- and right-side. Primary Flight Displays (PFD), left-center Multi-Function Display (MFD), and right- center Engine Instrument/Crew Alerting System (EICAS) Display.
The PFDs present standard horizon, attitude, airspeed, altitude, and directional guidance information. They can also display landing gear, flaps, and ground proximity annunciators.
The MFD features a moving map for situational awareness. Weather Radar, lightning, turbulence, icing, floor, ceiling, and visibility graphics are "painted" around the aircraft symbol on the moving map.
In addition to performing traditional engine monitoring, the EICAS-using NASA software-automatically compensates for changes in aircraft performance caused by altitude, temperature, drag, and engine aging.
The Flight Management