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A Brief History of Informatics and Embedded Systems

Informatics is a young discipline. Its theoretical foundations were developed just before World War II.

Its evolution is strongly linked to its applications and the development of electronics, which is why its perimeter and scope have steadily expanded in the last 60 years. Although it was initially a science for Scientific Computing, Information Technology has been propelled forward by the development of arms systems and the early space programs.

  • In the 1970's, computers were widely used in commercial and administrative applications. Microprocessors also became available, bringing together on a single chip all the functionalities of a processor. This is the start of a race to miniaturize electronic components - allowing the capacity of electronic chips to double every two years (Moore's Law). This exponential growth in computing power is expected to continue at least until 2020.
  • In the 1980s, the availability of computer networks brings together Information Technology and Telecommunications. The computer mouse, Windows and graphical interfaces also appear.
  • In the 1990s, internet and and the world wide web become available, allowing widespread access to digital technologies. The concept of "Information Technologies" appears.
  • Finally, towards the beginning of the 2000s, a second parallel revolution occurs for Embedded Systems. It is less visible, but has deeper impacts. In the end, the Embedded Systems revolution will join the world wide web revolution, as will be explained below.

Over 95% of all electronic chips produced today are for embedded systems. Their use in everyday products is a major evolution for Information and Communication Technologies.

The miniaturisation of ICT hardware now makes it possible to make wireless, implantable medical devices and monitors that can transmit vital statistics and alerts to external devices.

Economic Challenges

Embedded technologies are of strategic importance for modern economies. They are vital for systems and service developers, because they can impact their competitivity and generate value. Embedded software plays an increasingly significant role with respect to hardware: software functionalities allow differentiation between products that are based on the same hardware.

For example, embedded technologies allow an automotobile to increase fuel economy and reduce emissions, by adjusting to the state of the motor. It is also possible to improve the comfort and security of passengers through airbags that are more dependable and efficient, and also through assisted braking. In high-end cars, there are over 80 distinct processors for handling these various emerging functionalities - that allow manufacturers to increase improve security, performance, attractiveness, and in the end, their market share.

Europe now has strong positions in rail transport, avionics, automotive, space, and consumer electronics, smart cards, telecommunications equipment, and intelligent distribution of energy. Continued competitivity in these sectors increasingly depends on the capacity for innovation using embedded technologies. Thus, it is essential that Europe play a leadership position in Embedded Technologies.

Adapted from a text by Joseph Sifakis
(VERIMAG Laboratory).
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