Been to a hospital lately?

Well, I surely hope you haven't, hospitals are not my favorite places, they are a fertile ground for embedded systems though. Many of the devices in the hospital consist of an instrument part and a user interface (Human Machine Interface). The device could be an MRI scanner, or a a relatively simple blood analyzer. The Human Machine Interface on these devices control the instrument(s) provide feedback on the measurements and possibly interacts with a back office system.

Traditionally these devices have consisted of an Intel based machine that runs Windows for the HMI and back office integration and an embedded piece, possibly on ARM or PPC that controls the instrument. These two boxes have a larger bill-of-materials (makes them more expensive), take extra space, use more power and cost more in maintenance. 

Multicore and virtualization can truly make a difference here. A dual core Intel processor provides more than sufficient power to run the HMI on one core and the instrument control on the other. Virtualization keeps both separate and keeps instrument control isolated from blue-screens-of-death. This is a typical example of the use of virtualization for consolidation, reduce the number of independent processors in your products.

Innovation is another interesting use of virtualization. Say you have a device right now and it has a certain piece of functionality, let's take the blood analyzer again. Maybe initially it was a fixed function, but by now it has multiple different types of functionality, you want to be able to hook it up to 802.11 or to 3G and do reporting directly into back office databases. This requires a bigger UI and that job can be given to Windows, so now you want to add Windows, maybe on a single core Atom to innovate your device.

Two easy to understand examples of the use of Windows on top of a virtualization layer for embedded systems. Both examples deliver clear benefits to the end customers and hence to the device manufacturer. 

Wind River has announced support for Microsoft Windows on top of the Wind River Hypervisor today.

Now, these are very specific examples of the use of a processor architecture (Intel) in combination with Microsoft Windows. There are a myriad other ways that you can use virtualization to achieve similar benefits on other processor architectures such as PPC and ARM. Interested? Shoot me an email or contact your local Wind River representative, we are both happy to brainstorm with you.