Software isn't rocket science

30 December 2012 by Steve Blum

Parallel processing, Apollo style.

There’s more software in your car “than on the first spacecraft in the Seventies” according to Sanjay Poonen president of technology and innovation products at SAP, a keynoter at MobileCon 2012.

Actually, your phone – smart or not – has more code in it. Maybe even your wristwatch. The two Apollo guidance computers (one each in the Command and Lunar Modules) that went to the Moon each had the rough equivalent of 4 KB of what we’d call RAM and 64 KB of ROM.

The last (manned) spacecraft of the Seventies – the Space Shuttle – was originally designed with about 2 MB onboard. Its fly-by-wire system sported five IBM AP-101 computers each rocking 424 KB of core memory.

Astronauts took along a Grid Compass (Intel 8066 processor with 340 KB bubble memory) on later flights and kept upgrading as the years went by.

But the Apollo astronauts didn’t need all that. Even with big mainframes back on Earth, they relied on paper, pencils, slide rules and math to navigate through space.

Your car, on the other hand, probably has something like 50 processors in it, plus consumer electronics products like audio, video and navigation devices. Plus the mobile phones, tablets and other gizmos you and your passengers routinely carry.

That’s how we get to 50 billion networked devices by 2020, a figure floated earlier this year by Hans Vestberg, the CEO of Ericsson, and quickly accepted as conventional wisdom throughout the mobile industry.

Poonen’s point was big networks produce big data, and the opportunity is in developing the software to enable “smart houses, smart logistics, smart vending, smart cities, smart equipment and smart cars.”

Slide rules or not, the leading edge of technology is still made out of math.