Britain's COMPUTERWEEKLY NEWS (May 8) ran an article surveying the embedded chips problem. It is a comprehensive problem, the author warns.
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First on the list is the absolute ubiquity of embedded systems: they are in videos, lifts, cars, washing machines, etc. These are trivial. The ones you really need to worry about are those in industrial, medical and military control systems.
These are the unseen guardians of our lives. They keep nuclear cores stable, the oil, gas, water and electricity flowing; they keep intensive care units operating and the forces armed and mobile. If they fail, our world implodes. And embedded systems are located everywhere.
"There were 3.5 billion programmable microcontrollers shipped in l995, and seven billion last year," says Margaret Joachim, assistant executive director of Taskforce 2000. "No one knows where they all are, no one knows if they are compliant."
These are just the new ones. The bulk of them are years older. "Many of the Ministry of Defence embedded systems are 15-20 years old," warns Taskforce 2000 executive director, Robin Guenier. The only way to find them is to count them. "Discovery is not too difficult," says Paul Harborne, year 2000 manager at BT. "It is just boringly methodical."