“Hardware is Hard, but it’s a lot easier than it’s ever been ” -This is probably the only word of hope left for most tech companies and Start-Ups in the 21st century !

Dealing with hardware is something most tech entrepreneurs would like to avoid. With a mind-blowing pace in the software industry over the last decade, the word “hardware” could almost be directly defined as a  “highly undesired section of technology that cannot be destroyed”. Notwithstanding, we can never fall too short about the fact that, at least nowadays, engineers have tried to make it look pretty cool – at least aesthetically.

  • Hardware Development

The rapid pace of technology evolution over the past decades introduced new business models for companies and an unprecedented level of global connectivity. These developments created enormous volumes of data, which led to the rapid rise of the “data field”. What was once the domain of intelligence agencies, market research professionals and some technical statisticians is now going mainstream.

The new connected world of today is producing data at a pace that is unheard of in human history. It is estimated that today, more than 3 billion people are connected to the internet (compared to only 2.3 million people in 1990). These 3 billion people are producing data every second of their digital lives. Effectively managing big data is now possible given the hardware and software development, at the center of which is the exponential growth storage capacity. Today, a hard disk with a storage capacity of one terabyte costs about $50 – this was the global storage capacity only four decades ago. It is because of this storage power that many entities are following the “collect now, sort out later” approach when it comes to data. The low cost of storage and better methods of analysis mean that you generally do not need to have a specific purpose for the data in mind before you collect it. This means big data will only get bigger, and – per IBM’s Watson data crunching service team – the value of this data will go up every day AI advances.

“AI workloads are different from the calculations most of our current computers are built to perform. AI implies prediction, inference, intuition. But the most creative machine learning algorithms are hamstrung by machines that can’t harness their power. Hence, if we’re to make great strides in AI, our hardware must change, too. Starting with GPUs, and then evolving to analog devices, and then fault tolerant quantum computers.”-IBM

This is where we find the space and need for hardware engineers. At this stage it is necessary for Hardware engineers to get a closer insight on AI technology and find way of empower it.

CNC Machine at the China CNC Machine Tool Fair 2018, Shanghai

Nevertheless, the interaction between engineers and the developing artificial intelligence seems to be lacking effectiveness. About 66% of developers say they have experienced a miscommunication with a CNC machine or 3D printing shop in regard to designing with intent on a part and 74% of manufacturers report a similar miscommunication.        

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  • Biometrics

Biometrics technology is mainly used for identification and access control, or for identifying individuals that are under surveillance. The basic premise of this authentication is that everyone is unique and an individual can be identified by his or her intrinsic physical or behavioural traits. It can be used as an employee time management system due to its ability to recognise people’s unique physiological characteristics. These time and attendance terminals are becoming increasingly popular in the market today because of its many features.

One of the most prevalent biometric technologies at this stage is the fingerprint recognition system; by placing a finger on the scanner, the time clock terminal reads the fingerprint and allows the person to clock in or out. Biometrics terminals are able to read a person’s unique fingerprint, iris, hand shape, or face shape, and they would ensure that employees cannot clock in for one another; this goes a long way in preventing employee time theft.

This technology is not restricted to just hands and fingers; rather there are terminals that scan a person’s iris to recognise the individual. Additionally, certain systems capture an image of a person’s unique face shape and use this to allow employees access to features on the terminal.

Traits that are leveraged for biometric applications are either selected from a group of physiological characteristics (which are present in or on the human body, like friction ridges, iris patterns, retina, DNA, body odor and even ear recognition or from behavioral characteristics such as signatures, gait, typing rhythm, etc.). A biometric characteristic may also fall into both the categories; an example is voice. Voice is resulted out of anatomical structure of vocal chords as well as habitual way of speaking, making voice an individual characteristic. While these conventional methods are used the most for biometric applications, there are other human traits as well that do not get enough attention, but have a lot of scope for research and specialized deployment.

Unfortunately, most biometric identities can easily be stolen and reused and  we have no way of preventing bad-intentioned people or malware from reusing it maliciously at this stage.

  • Employment

Nowadays, hardware engineers are mainly responsible for designing computer hardware for their company. They participate in every aspect of product development, including concept creation, prototype design, product development, and testing. One of their main duties includes proposing architecture and design execution. They also participate in validation tasks after a prototype has been created, performing careful analysis to identify hardware issues and suggest changes to the development team. Hardware engineers generally report their progress to the hardware leader in their department.

Additionally, hardware engineers provide colleagues with specific advice about product life cycle support characteristics and acceptance criteria. Other tasks completed by hardware engineers include creating specifications and hardware device performance numbers, actively participating in company meetings, and using technical expertise to conduct failure prevention analysis and improve reliability. In all tasks, the hardware engineer must closely follow company guidelines and procedures. One of the engineer’s main tools include a personal computer with specialized software to create simulations and projections related to hardware capabilities. 

In the United States, the median annual wage for computer hardware engineers was $115,120 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $176,900. Surprisingly, this does quite drastically differ in the United Kingdom. The average pay for a Hardware Engineer is £33,073 per year and people in this job generally do not have more than 20 years experience. For the first five to ten years in this position pay increases steeply, but any additional experience does not have a big effect on pay.

As much as this may sound exciting, it not does not measure up compared to software engineers who sit at the top of the list of most sought after jobs in the US. Several professionals in the tech industry have indeed noticed this lack of balance in the market. Marc Raphael, the CEO of KeySupreme, states: “There is a noticeable yet, many times, not considered lack of Hardware engineers. We have many new tools in the software industry, nevertheless, we sense a scarcity for rapid innovation and development in the hardware industry.”

  • Security

Hardware-based security uses a dedicated integrated circuit (IC), or a processor with specialized security hardware, specifically designed to provide cryptographic functions and protect against attacks. Security operations, such as encryption/decryption and authentication, take place at the IC hardware level where crypto algorithm performance is optimized. Additionally, sensitive information, such as keys and critical end-application parameters, are protected within the electrical boundary of crypto-hardware.

The security IC contains circuit blocks such as a math accelerator, random number generator, nonvolatile memory, tamper detection, and a physically unclonable function (PUF).  The PUF block is particularly interesting in that it has a unique characteristic of being immune to invasive or reverse-engineering attempts to extract sensitive data such as a cryptographic key.

The “Maxim DS28E38” is an example of a security IC that integrates PUF, both to generate keys and to protect against invasive security attacks. It is incredibly difficult and expensive to alter silicon. Therefore, cybercriminals are deterred from attacks on hardware-based security. Furthermore, when attacked, the security IC is capable of shutting down operations and destroying sensitive data before being compromised. Such a solution may be a little more expensive, but it provides considerable reduction in the risk of unauthorized access to embedded devices, peripherals, and systems.

Hardware-based security is effective in all application environments and seems to be ahead even when we talk about blockchain! Hardware wallets have secure chips in them (or equivalent); that means when you connect them to a computer to send your currency you never need to input your private key on the computer itself. You simply input a pin code on the piece of hardware, which means that trading on a compromised computer is safer.

Reaching the end line of the second decade of the 21st century, The State of Hardware and Biometrics is one which is highly favorable for Hardware engineers as there is a growing need for them in this era. Furthermore, there seems to be an ending fight between software and Hardware due to the need for greater communion between both to keep evolving with the aid of AI. More projects and innovation are expected to happen within the industry, given that some balance in companies is established position-wise; with more vacancies for hardware engineers.