10 Reasons Why Java is the Top Embedded Platform

With the release of Oracle Java ME Embedded 3.2 and Oracle Java Embedded Suite, Java is now ready to fully move into the embedded developer space, what many have called the "Internet of Things". Here are 10 reasons why Java is the top embedded platform.

1. Decouples software development from hardware development cycle

Development is typically split between both hardware and software in a traditional design flow . This leads to complicated co-design and requires prototype hardware to be built. This parallel and interdependent hardware / software design process typically leads to two or more re-development phases.

With Embedded Java, all specific work is carried out in software, with the (processor) hardware implementation fully decoupled. This with eliminate or at least reduces the need for re-spins of software or hardware and the original development efforts can be carried forward directly into product development and validation.

2. Development and testing can be done (mostly) using standard desktop systems through emulation

Because the software and hardware are decoupled it now becomes easier to test the software long before it reaches the hardware through hardware emulation. Emulation is the ability of a program in an electronic device to imitate another program or device. In the past Java tools like the Java ME SDK and the SunSPOTs Solarium provided developers with emulation for a complete set of mobile phones and SunSpots. This often included network interaction or in the case of SunSPOTs radio communication.

What emulation does is speed up the development cycle by refining the software development process without the need of hardware. The software is fixed, redefined, and refactored without the timely expense of hardware testing. With tools like the Java ME 3.2 SDK, Embedded Java applications can be be quickly developed on Windows based platforms.

In the end of course developers should do a full set of testing on the hardware as incompatibilities between emulators and hardware will exist, but the amount of time to do this should be significantly reduced.

3. Highly productive language, APIs, runtime, and tools mean quick time to market

Charles Nutter probably said it best in his twitter blog when he tweeted, "Every time I see a piece of C code I need to port, my heart dies a little. Then I port it to 1/4 as much Java, and feel better." The Java environment is a very complex combination of a Java Virtual Machine, the Java Language, and it's robust APIs. Combine that with the Java ME SDK for small devices or just NetBeans for larger devices and you have a development environment where development time is reduced significantly meaning the product can be shipped sooner. Of course this is assuming that the engineers don't get slap happy adding new features given the extra time they'll have. 

4. Create high-performance, portable, secure, robust, cross-platform applications easily

The latest JIT compilers for the Oracle JVM approach the speed of C/C++ code, and in some memory allocation intensive circumstances, exceed it. And specifically for the embedded devices both ME Embedded and SE Embedded have been optimized for the smaller footprints.  In portability Java uses Bytecode to make the language platform independent. This creates a write once run anywhere environment that allows you to develop on one platform and execute on others and avoids a platform vendor lock in. For security, Java achieves protection by confining a Java program to a Java execution environment and not allowing it to access other parts of computer.  In variety of systems the program must execute reliably to be robust. Finally, Oracle Java ME Embedded is a cross-industry and cross-platform product optimized in release version 3.2 for chipsets based on the ARM architectures. Similarly Oracle Java SE Embedded works on a variety of ARM V5, V6, and V7, X86 and Power Architecture Linux.

5. Java isolates your apps from language and platform variations (e.g. C/C++, kernel, libc differences)

This has been a key factor in Java from day one. Developers write to Java and don't have to worry about underlying differences in the platform variations. Those platform variations are being managed by the JVM. Gone are the C/C++ problems like memory corruptions, stack overflows, and other such bugs which are extremely difficult to isolate. Of course this doesn't imply that you won't be able to get away from native code completely. There could be some situations where you have to write native code in either assembler or C/C++. But those instances should be limited.

6. Most popular embedded processors supported allowing design flexibility

Java SE Embedded is now available on ARM V5, V6, and V7 along with Linux on X86 and Power Architecture platforms. Java ME Embedded is available on system based on ARM architecture SOCs with low memory footprints and a device emulation environment for x86/Windows desktop computers, integrated with the Java ME SDK 3.2. A standard binary of Oracle Java ME Embedded 3.2 for ARM KEIL development boards based on ARM Cortex M-3/4 (KEIL MCBSTM32F200 using ST Micro SOC STM32F207IG) will soon be available for download from the Oracle Technology Network (OTN).

7. Support for key embedded features (low footprint, power mgmt., low latency, etc)

All embedded devices by their very nature are constrained in some way. Economics may dictate a device with a less RAM and ROM. The CPU needs can dictate a less powerful device. Power consumption is another major resource in some embedded devices as connecting to consistent power source not always desirable or possible. For others they have to constantly on. Often many of these systems are headless (in the embedded space it's almost always Halloween). 

For memory resources, Java ME Embedded can run in environment as low as 130KB RAM/350KB ROM for a minimal, customized configuration up to 700KB RAM/1500KB ROM for the full, standard configuration. Java SE Embedded is designed for environments starting at 32MB RAM/39MB  ROM. Key functionality of embedded devices such as auto-start and recovery, flexible networking are fully supported. And while Java SE Embedded has been optimized for mid-range to high-end embedded systems, Java ME Embedded is a Java runtime stack optimized for small embedded systems. It provides a robust and flexible application platform with dedicated embedded functionality for always-on, headless (no graphics/UI), and connected devices.

8. Leverage huge Java developer ecosystem (expertise, existing code)

There are over 9 million developers in the world that work on Java, and while not all of them work on embedded systems, their wealth of expertise in developing applications is immense. In short, getting a Java developer to work on a embedded system is pretty easy, you probably have a Java developer living in your neighborhood. 

Then of course there is the wealth of existing code. The Java Embedded Community on Java.net is central gathering place for embedded Java developers. Conferences like Java Embedded @ JavaOne and the a variety of hardware vendor conferences like Freescale Technlogy Forums offer an excellent opportunity for those interested in embedded systems.

9. Easily create end-to-end solutions integrated with Java back-end services

In the "Internet of Things" things aren't on an island doing a single task. For instance and embedded drink dispenser doesn't just dispense a beverage, but could collect money from a credit card and also send information about current sales. Similarly, an embedded house power monitoring system doesn't just manage the power usage in a house, but can also send that data back to the power company. In both cases it isn't about the individual thing, but monitoring a collection of  things. How much power did your block, subdivsion, area of town, town, county, state, nation, world use? How many Dr Peppers were purchased from thing1, thing2, thingN?

The point is that all this information can be collected and transferred securely  (and believe me that is key issue that Java fully supports) to back end services for further analysis. And what better back in service exists than a Java back in service. It's interesting to note that on larger embedded platforms that support the Java Embedded Suite some of the analysis might be done on the embedded device itself as Java Embedded Suite has a Glassfish server and Java Database as part of the installation. The result is an end to end Java solution.

10. Solutions from constrained devices to server-class systems

Just take a look at some of the embedded Java systems that have already been developed and you'll see a vast range of solutions. Livescribe pen, Kindle, each and every Blu-Ray player, Cisco's Advanced VOIP phone, KronosInTouch smart time clock, EnergyICT smart metering, EDF's automated meter management, Ricoh Printers, and Stanford's automated car  are just a few of the list of embedded Java implementation that continues to grow.


Now if your a Java Developer you probably look at some of the 10 reasons and say "duh", but for the embedded developers this is should be an eye opening list. And with the release of Java ME Embedded 3.2 and the Java Embedded Suite the embedded developer's life is now a whole lot easier. For the Java developer your employment opportunities are about to increase. Now is a great time to start developing Java for the "Internet of Things".


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Roger Brinkley


« September 2016