COTS: A “reactive” good idea
Following a directive from the US military in the early 1990s, the defense industry made a shift from using custom embedded electronic components made to military specifications to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components. Since the overall share of the DoD as a consumer was expected to shrink over time, this move to reduce costs took a practical approach of using commercial standards when appropriate, instead of ongoing custom embedded hardware.
The reduction in cost was expected due to several factors including
- Shorter development cycle
- Lower acquisition and support cost
- To take advantage of ongoing commercial investments on new, innovative technology
This was 20+ years ago and note that the COTS approach was not only embraced by the embedded industry, the medical and industrial equipment manufacturers also followed this path.
However, even though the move to COTS is considered a success, it created unintended consequences for embedded systems that have life cycles that last beyond the average commercial 5-7 years – especially for programs requiring extensive design verification and compliance requirements. The speed of technological innovation driven by the market (commercial) led to a sharply diminishing demand for older COTS products within just a few years of their launch.
In other words, the life cycle of COTS products shrank and the designers of complex embedded systems are forced to play catch-up. Even if designers account for the reduced life cycles of COTS components, some of these applications often see an extension of their life cycle due to change in demand and the complexity involved in introducing new systems to replace the old ones.
The big question becomes: What can the industry do in order to get itself out of this perpetual issue?
To put it differently, can we innovate to eliminate the curse of innovation itself!? And this is not just a play on the words but a highlight of the very essence of innovation.
The GDCA Team