Some surprisingly good embedded systems

I am a skeptic when it comes to technology. Despite working in the tech field — or maybe because I am — I always expect technology to fail or at least disappoint. But sometimes that instinct is actually wrong! Here are two recent examples when I felt “wow, that was pretty good” about some fairly mundane pieces of computerized equipment.

The bike light

When I got my new bike, I was told that the lights on it were automatic. So they would turn on when it was dark. That was understandable and useful enough for the front light which runs off of a generator. But for the battery-powered read light it seemed completely stupid. So it would detect “hey it is dark” and turn on during all dark hours, quickly running out of batteries. Or so I thought. Initial tests of the auto function did indicate this. The light turned on immediately when set to “auto”. However, when I asked the people in the store where I got it, they told me that it also had a shake sensor. So when I just waited some 30 seconds after the bike was stopped and still, and in the dark, the light did turn off. Impressive, in all its simplicity! There has to be some little eight-bit machine in there to do this… I guess.

The bar code scanner

Also known as the “Motorola MC17 Retail Mobile Computer”, which is one of the gadgets you use to scan your shopping yourself. This generation of devices, with fancy colored screens, have just been put into use in my two local supermarkets. I have managed to crash a few of the previous generations of devices (a small child that bites or licks the machine is apparently not within spec), and then I always had to go to customer service and get a new one. They would manually tell the central computer that my shopping was now done on a different device. Obviously, these systems are based on a central computer that tracks what all customers have scanned, and all prices. Before I realized this I was a little curious how all of that data could fit into each little device.

Anyway, one of the MC17s crashed on me the other day in the store, without any interference on my part (or my son’s). But unlike the previous devices, this one then cleanly rebooted, came up — and presented me with my shopping again! So they have managed to add just a bit of robustness to the system. Which did impress me some, based on previous experience.


So score two for the good guys, I must admit that there are things out there that just do work, even when sceptical not-so-old curmudgeon like me thinks they are just ripe to fail in some way.

3 thoughts on “Some surprisingly good embedded systems”

  1. What bike is that? Sounds like a useful feature, although I’d like generator-powered front *and* rear lights.

    Also, an USB connector to power devices from the wheel generator would be quite useful these days.

  2. It is a DBS. The light is from Spectra, but I could not find it anywhere online. It should be present in almost any bikeshop, however.

    Turns out that DBS, Crescent, Monark, Spectra, and a bunch of other brands are all part of the “Cycleurope” group. And Spectra is their in-house brand for all bicycle parts and accessories. So DBS came with a bunch of Spectra bits and pieces, among them these lights.

  3. The have the same kind of rear light on the Stockholm City Bikes rental bikes. But they don’t always work. The front light is also automatic, but I have only seen one bike so far that had working light. I haven’t used them in the dark very much, though.

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