Computer-on-modules (CoMs), also known as system on modules (SoMs), enable the development of modular embedded systems. This interview looks at how these boards have advanced in the last few years, with a focus on how operating systems and security have evolved to keep up with demanding applications like Industrial IoT.
Prashanth K. S. business development manager and Joy Huang, technical centre manager, Congatec Asia, speaks with Dilin Anand and J. Saravanam from EFY.
Q. How have CoMs evolved over the years?
A. As is usual, the core of either the system on chip (SoC) or that of the computer on module (CoM) always gets upgraded as a new central processing unit (CPU) architecture or generation of CPU comes in. Some of the real developments are around greater integration of features into the baseboard, basic input/output system (BIOS) customisation, and enhanced operating system and hardware design. You will also find support for newer interfaces as well as changes in the board’s form factor. Small is in.
Q. Since you mentioned enhanced operating systems (OS), is Windows still popular among engineers designing embedded computing systems?
A. Intel no longer supports Windows CE. Microsoft’s releases for desktop computing are now mirrored with relevant releases of the same brand of operating system (OS) for embedded computing. The changes in operating systems have been around the disappearance of support for Windows CE. Today, engineers who require Windows on their embedded systems use Windows 10 or other licensed versions of Windows. You can even obtain Windows 10 for Internet of Things from the Microsoft website.
Q. How is the Android OS managing in the world of embedded computing?
A. Android has definitely seen a big increase in interest, especially for Industrial Internet of Things. While Android has been here for many years, it is only now that it has been considered to be mature enough for implementation in important industrial systems. All Android-based systems go for Freescale or NXP powered chipsets since they need a process based on the ARM architecture.
Q. In your observation, which operating systems do most engineers lean toward?
A. As even consumer computing users believe, big Windows was literally too big for embedded use cases. This has led to a lot of engineers migrating to Linux-based solutions. Those building very critical systems tend to use real-time operating systems (RTOS) and VxWorks.
Q. Since security is all the rage with wireless connectivity and IoT in industrial systems, how do modern CoMs maximise security?
A. If a system is sensitive or has sensitive information, then having some sort of TPM on it is the way to go. TPM is a standard for a secure cryptoprocessor that ensures security for hardware. Trusted platform module with an Intel chipset is already available. Vendors like Infineon too have their own solutions for it. The fact is that hardware-based security is much more robust than software.
Q. How bad is it if my embedded system does not have TPM?
A. In a system without TPM, its security is probably based on software-based security. In such a case, it is possible to easily hack the system if someone has physical access to it. For example, even a storage swap or manually changing the hard disks could allow a hacker to get in.
Q. Where do you see the most demand from for CoMs today?
A.We see a lot of interest from the test and measurement space. Other industries that are currently very popular are healthcare, industry 4.0, avionics, and handheld devices.