RTECC June 2007 Tradeshow Review
Despite the Lack of Exhibitor Participation, a Few Gems Could be Found

~ Amy Devine, Software Engineer

When I had received my registration form for the Real-Time & Embedded computing conference ("RTECC") months ago, I quickly hopped online and signed up. I had a very enjoyable time last year, meeting new folk and learning about new and current technologies.

I remember walking into the convention site last year and being amazed by the number of exhibitors in attendance. I was hoping for a repeat experience. But, when I arrived at the RTECC on June 12, 2007, and there was no coffee at 9 A.M., I knew things were not going to be the same.

The RTECC Exhibits
After registering and perusing the mounds of free trade-rags on display, I made my way into the exhibit hall to the few exhibitors. While this allowed for more walking room in between exhibits, I was expecting a vendor showing like the previous year.

In all fairness, RTECC was competing with the Sensors Expo. Some of the staff at RightHand attended a half-day at RTECC and a half-day at the Sensors Expo. Perhaps it was because of the Sensors Expo that the RTECC was not as big as it was last year.

Most of the companies were offering high-end, big price tag solutions and tools. Those types of tools typically cannot be cost justified for smaller projects. At RightHand Systems, we need flexible tools and solutions that can be used in a variety of projects such as tools that work with multiple types of processor architectures.

One tool caught the attention of one of my colleagues: a code analyzer tool called LDRA Zero Defect Software Development. It claims to be more sophisticated than Polyspace (run-time error detection at compile time) because LDRA has the ability to run a part of their analysis on the actual target hardware.

The LDRA tool suite is also fully integrated into development environments such as WindRiver Tornado, TI Code Composer Studio, Telelogic's Rhapsody, QNX Momentics Professional Edition, IAR Embedded Workbench, MathWorks Simulink and iSYSTEM's In-Circuit and On-Chip emulation technology. The seat license for LDRA is about $15,000.

As a company that offers engineering services for hire, RightHand would have to see a monetary advantage to justify the tool's cost. For higher quality software, it may be worth the investigation.

RTECC Conference Sessions

Virtutech's Simic Product Line - Debugging Software without Hardware
Checking the RTECC website (www.rtecc.com) the day before the conference, I found one late conference addition that captured my attention: a company called Virtutech. The Virtutech representatives, Jeff Vekony, Account Manager and Joe Hamman, Sr. Application Engineer, were very knowledgeable and had some great demos to share with the audience.

The Simics product offered by Virtutech is really fascinating, but a bit pricey.

Simics allows a developer to debug application software for a given architecture before having the physical hardware! They do this by constructing a software model of your target processor and encapsulating that in a software application that runs your code on the software model.

In addition, the Simics Model Builder development platform allows you to create your own models of buses and other hardware components. The models can then be plugged in to the Simics Virtual Platform to model your entire hardware system without having a single hardware component.

The benefit? Software developers no longer have to wait to get hardware before debugging their code. With the use of the Simics product family, software developers can continue to make forward progress even when the "hardware is late".

Debugging the Same Software on Different Processors and Microcontrollers
Another bonus to Simics is that you can swap in and out processor cores. This is beneficial to the work at RightHand Systems where we deal with a wide variety of processors and microcontrollers from the TI MSP430 to Intel or ATMEL cores to Power PCs.

For a single price, the basic software modeling package can be purchased, and then for an additional cost, add the core that matches a project's particular needs.

Better Debugging than printf and JTAG
In addition to the common stop, run, step-over, step-into debugger commands, Simics Hindsight provides the step-back and step-back-into debugger commands. This allows a user to rewind execution to see what happened prior to the fault location.

The Simics Hindsight works by taking frequent snapshots of the system during execution including memory contents. When you step-back, Hindsight "rewinds" to the last snapshot and then executes from that point up to the step-back location. The step-back features reduces the time it would normally take to debug using the standard guess-and-check, printf, and JTAG debugging techniques.

The Downsides to the Simics Product Family
There are two downsides to the Simics product family that I see. First, their modeling is not cycle accurate. This means that if you have a bug that is timing dependent, you will probably not find it during the modeling process.

Second, there is no free demo available online nor at RTECC. It would have been great to have walked away with a demo of the product to see if it would be worth the price tag (80-100K).

RTECC Lunch Break
Lunch was good and well organized. The staff of the Hilton should be commended for their timeliness in providing lunch and also for the quality of the food. Having no interest in the lunchtime presenter, I chose to sit at a table that was outside the exhibitor room. During lunch, I was joined by some folk that I had met during the day. The conversation was one of the highlights of my day at RTECC.

RTECC Next Year
In my opinion, having lots of exhibits does not make an event successful; it's all about the presenters. If the RTECC can deliver topics of interest to my company and/or myself, I’ll be there next year.

Oh, and please have plenty of coffee next time, okay?