Hacker Diary: Embedded World 2022

Yesterday I went up to the Embedded World trade fair in Nuremburg, Germany. As a lone hacker, you often feel more than a little out of place when you buy chips in single unit quantities and the people you’re talking to are used to minimum order quantities of a million. But what’s heartening is how, once you ask an interesting question, even some of the suit-wearing types flip into full-on kids who like to explain the fun tech. I struck up conversations with more than a couple VPs of global chip behemoths, and they were cool.

But my heart is still with the smaller players, and the hackers. That’s where the innovation is. I met up with Colin O’Flynn, of Chip Whisperer fame — his company is selling fancier chip-glitching tools, but he still had a refined version of the open source, quick-and-dirty zapper circuit from his Remoticon talk last year. There was a small local company producing virtual buttons that were essentially Pepper’s Ghost illusions floating in mid-air, and the button press was detected by reflective IR. Cool tech, but I forgot the company’s name — sorry!

Less forgettable was Dracula Technologies, a French company making inkjet-printable organic solar cells. While they wouldn’t go into deep details about the actual chemistry of what they’re doing, I could tell that it pained them to not tell me when I asked. Anyway, it’s a cool low-power solar tech that would be awesome if it were more widespread. I think they’re just one of many firms in this area; keep your eyes on organic solar.

When talking with a smaller German FPGA manufacturer, Cologne Chip, about their business, I finally asked about the synthesis flow and was happily surprised to hear that they were dedicated to the fully open-source Yosys toolchain. As far as I know, they’re one of the only firms who have voluntarily submitted their chips’ specs to the effort. Very cool! (And a sign of things to come? You can always hope.)

I met a more than a few Hackaday readers just by randomly stumbling around, which also shows that the hacker spirit is alive in companies big and small. All of the companies have to make demos to attract our attention, but from talking to the people who make them, they have just as much fun building them as you or I would.

And last but not least, I ran into Hackaday regular Chris Gammell and my old boss and good friend Mike Szczys who were there representing the IoT startup Golioth, and trying to fool me into using an RTOS on microcontrollers. (Never say never.) We had an awesome walkaround and a great dinner.

If you ever get the chance to go to a trade show like this, even if you feel like you might be out of your league, I encourage you to attend anyway. You’d be surprised how many cool geeks are hiding in the least likely of places.

[Banner image: Embedded World]

10 thoughts on “Hacker Diary: Embedded World 2022

  1. Why would you be surprised that people working in embedded companies enjoy doing embedded stuff? I’ve been at it 30 years, still enjoy it, and still dick around with stuff at home too.

      1. Are there bitter engineers that really wanted to be part of a Big CPU circle jerk and spend 2 years getting a single register to work with 50% less power or something? Or have their feature cancelled because it was cheaper in microcode. To quote the great philosopher of our times Jonathon Coulton in his critically acclaimed ballad “Code Monkey”… “”This job “fulfilling in creative way”, Such a load of crap””

      2. Interesting question. I certainly wasn’t the exception, but it seems to be heading that way. The home-computer “if you don’t do it yourself, no one else will” generation has started to give way to the “there’ll be a library for that somewhere” one, with the attendant do in code quality

          1. The world has changed, if I have to deal with one more 60 yo home computer guy who wrote his own library because its “better” I’m gonna change career soon. These are the people holding our technology back, writing C like they did 30 years ago.

            No it’s not better than the alternative that has 10 dev working full time on it, using libraries is not being lazy, it’s being smart, which what engineers need to do.

            Time and money are limited, work needs to be focused on differentiating parts, and innovative features, not on boilerplate code that you can find for free on github.

          2. wrong.
            If you are a home computer guy writing code for yourself – feel free to use libraries that depend on libraries that depend on libraries (etc) that you have no idea who is maintaining, or what they are doing with them.

            However, if you are writing production code for an actual real world application, only use libraries if you have fully vetted them, and preferably only if 1) they don’t depend on other libraries and 2) you understand the source code, take a static copy of it – and then never update it without carefully going through a rigorous process.

            The same applies for commercial software libraries as it does free ones..

            The other thing is performance. Some libraries are much faster than you can write without a LOT of work – ideal candidates to be used. Some others are doing really tricky things that would be hard to get right – also ideal candidates. However I see a lot of things build with libraries (and dependencies) that have a whole big slow library used for one small piece of functionality, and that done many times in systems that makes it slow and bloaty ie they are done because the people writing the system are lazy.
            I have – literally – seen systems run 10 times faster with the removal one generic library…..

  2. Okay, the “pepper’s ghost” floating buttons ware from a comany called Hy-Line. I tried to get a video which unsurprisingly doesn’t do it justice but you can kind of get the effect. But I concur with Elliot’s assessment that these are pretty

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/m1jij2mKKruQ2q2w8

    Secondly, I had a great meal after the show with Elliot and Chris, thanks for taking the train up old friend!

    https://twitter.com/szczys/status/1540032644263575556

    And finally, I’m pretty proud of the hardware demos that Chris and I pulled together with the help of our excellent colleagues at Golioth. This video is a bit sales-pitchy, but it was filmed by Charbax (a well-known live streamer at shows like this). If you want to see what we’ve been working on as if you had just walked up to our booth, this link’s for you:

    https://youtu.be/alYzAV1t5QI?t=23489

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