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Have you driven embedded software, lately?

Here’s a line I’ve been writing for many years: Hardware is nothing more than software that breaks if you drop it. It’s true because everything from a toaster oven to thermostat to, well, just about anything else is loaded with embedded software. Even today’s vehicles are essentially little more than highly complex mobile computers with seating for five and cargo space.

While we’re busy gushing about the latest mobile and cloud applications, it is the software embedded in dishwashers, IoT sensors, microwave ovens, digital cameras, vehicles, and even self-synchronizing wall clocks that may be real stars. There’s a lot more to software than user-facing applications, after all.

According to data published in June 2016 by Global Market Insights, the embedded software market size, valued at $10.46 billion in 2015, is predicted to register a 7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2023, rising to about $18 billion.

One key driver is automotive. According to Global Market Insights, the automotive embedded systems market accounted for roughly 22% share in 2014, with CAGR gains estimated at 5.5% from 2016 to 2023. Smart vehicles, navigation capability, and car-to-road communication, along with the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles are behind the growing numbers.

Another obvious growth market is wearable devices. “Growing use of wearable embedded equipment across many applications like medical, security, fitness and safety is predicted to promote embedded software industry trends,” the report notes. Increasing customer demand for electronic equipment like computers, tablets and smartphones is predicted to enhance the demand for the industry further.

The report defines embedded software as consisting of tools, middleware, and operating systems. There’s a rise in the use of Java in mobile devices behind technologies that include near-field communications.

This is also about highly specialized real-time operating systems, such as VxWorks from Wind River, ThreadX from Express Logic, and the open-source Fusion Embedded RTOS from Unicoi Systems for starters.

If you’ve worked on embedded software of any kind, we’d like to hear from you. What is the nature of the software you’ve written and on what kinds of devices is it running? There’s lots to talk about and plenty of opportunity for software engineers looking to expand their horizons. Join the conversation.