The market for embedded computer systems, which already generates more than US$1 trillion in revenue annually, will double in size over the next four years, according to a report about to be released by research company IDC.
Much of this growth will be propelled by more sophisticated, cloud-connected embedded systems, which will have faster chips, better connectivity and more advanced operating systems and analytical software, IDC predicted.
IDC referred to these systems as "Intelligent Systems," and they will grow from 19 percent of all unit shipments of major electronic systems in 2010 to more than 33 percent in 2015.
Due to be released next week, IDC's report, "Intelligent Systems: The Next Big Opportunity," states that this year more than 1.8 billion embedded systems will be shipped, which will create $1 trillion in revenue for component makers, software companies and integrators.
By 2015, more than 4 billion units will be shipped, which will create $2 trillion in revenue. Moreover, embedded systems will require 14.5 billion microprocessor cores by 2015.
Embedded systems are small computational and sensor-based electronic components that collect data and automate simple actions. They are widely used in both consumer and industrial applications, such as vending machines, refrigerators, digital music players, automobiles and routine assembly line tasks. As the cost and power requirements of microprocessors continue to plummet, the use of sophisticated microcontrollers becomes more feasible for a wider variety of tasks.
"We're seeing more and more of our customers who look at these devices as a huge source of data that they can use to drive increased business efficiencies in business intelligence," said Kevin Dallas, general manager of the Windows Embedded business at Microsoft.
Microsoft itself is enhancing its Windows Embedded operating system to accommodate the future needs of more complex embedded systems, Dallas said. For instance, it is developing a machine-to-machine connection manager, code-named Pontecchio, that would offer fine-grained control over when devices connect to network services, which would make their data transfers more predictable.
For the report, the IDC researchers looked at buying habits across seven major industries, namely communications, computing, consumer, energy, health care, industrial and transportation. They also examined the road maps of the major processor architectures, including ARM, MIPS, IBM's Power Architecture and x86.
IDC is a division of International Data Group, the parent company of IDG News Service.