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Digital Signal Processing in a Digitalised World: The Future for DSP Engineers

03/10/18 Nick Drain - CertRP Consultant, R&D / Engineering

We live in a sea of signals. They are natural and manmade. Electrical signals are everywhere since they’re used in communications, in entertainment devices, in measuring instruments, in imaging devices, and computers.

Nick Drain, Redline Group R&D and Engineering recruitment consultant discusses digital signal processing jobs in today’s high growth electronics sectors and why DSP engineers will be even more important in the next decade.

Electrical signals are of two types: analog, where the signals are carried by continuously varying quantities, and digital, where the signals are restricted to a finite set of discrete values (often just two, symbolised by 0 and 1).

Historically, engineers have been replacing analog signals with digital signals. For example, music was always recorded and transmitted in analog form until the 1980s when the CD player made the digital recording of music common. When a CD is made in a studio, the music is first converted into an electrical analog signal by a microphone, then the electrical signal is converted into a sequence of zeros and ones by sampling. It’s this sequence of zeros and ones that’s etched into the spiral track of the CD.  Hey presto, move on multiple years and the iPod arrived using a digital storage format.

There are two very important advantages to digital signals. First, digital signals can be reproduced exactly. Second, digital signals can be manipulated easily. Since the signal is just a sequence of zeros and ones, and since a computer can do anything specifiable to such a sequence, you can do many things with digital signals. This is known as digital signal processing.

Digital Signal Processing is now used everywhere. DSP is used primarily in areas of audio signal, speech processing, RADAR, seismology, audio, SONAR, voice recognition, and in financial signals.

Digital signal processing is becoming ever more important because it provides the ‘flexibility’ of using the same digital hardware (e.g. DSP chips such as TI TMS 320 series or OMAP, Analog Devices SHARC) for many different applications. Before DSP, different analog electronics would be required for every different application. Now, for example, your smartphone is everything from a cell phone, radio, camera, navigational tool, music player, video player, etc. all using the same hardware as a result of DSP. Increasingly, everything is being ‘software-defined’ and DSP is really at the heart of that trend which has been evolving for the past several decades.

Examples of common DSP algorithms and their applications

Speech coding and decoding     

  • Digital mobile phones, personal communication systems, digital cordless phones, multimedia computers and secure communications
  • Speech encryption and decryption

    Speech recognition        

  • Advanced user interfaces, multimedia workstations, robotics and automotive applications, digital cellular phones, personal communication systems, digital cordless phones
  • Speech synthesis
  • Multimedia PCs, advanced user interfaces, robotics
  • Modem algorithms
  • Digital mobile phones, personal communication systems, digital cordless phones, digital audio broadcast, multimedia computers, wireless computing, navigation, data/fax modems, secure communications

Becoming a DSP engineer…

DSPs maximise work per clock cycle. DSPs are designed to execute complex math in parallel, which is common in many signal processing applications. DSPs deliver high performance at lower clock frequencies, which saves power.

It is essential for smartphones and wearable devices, as well as the latest healthcare technologies, digital cameras and our digital assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Considering the immense power and promise of signal processing in today’s electronics industry, it’s not difficult to see how it can be the ideal vocational path for a person with an interest in science, technology, or mathematics, and a desire to change the world.

A digital signal processing engineer is generally strong in maths and wants to use mathematical techniques to solve problems commonly with the use of algorithms.

What skills do DSP engineers require?

Basics of C/ C++: The basics of programming at the elementary level is essential. Knowledge of fundamentals like control statements, looping statements, and data types is important.

MATLAB: The MATrix LABoratory, aptly named so, is the altar of this profile. Essentially, it is an important tool for any electronics engineers and signal processing engineer.

Why is there a growing demand for signal process engineers?

Unlike in most fields of study, in signal processing, future jobs are not defined by or restricted to a single professional area. Signals are used to transmit information in nearly every sector including technology, manufacturing and electronics. They are used extensively in what will likely be a high-growth industry in years to come. For example, the healthcare sector uses signal processing for X-rays, MRIs and CT scans, allowing medical images to be analysed and deciphered by complex data processing techniques.

Signals are also used in the finance sector, to analyse and interpret financial data. This aids decision-making in trading and building stock portfolios. In the entertainment sector, the most exhilarating new movies are produced by multiresolution signal processing in digital cameras, making entertainment a lucrative market for people with this skillset. And of course, there is the ever-dynamic consumer electronics industry, where smartphones, wearable devices and digital home assistants couldn’t exist without signal processing engineers.

Why is signal processing the technology of the future?

The possibilities of digital signal processing jobs or DSP jobs are endless due to the technologies underpinning most of our disruptive innovations. For example, Silicon Valley, where disruption is the order of the day, the top tech companies are constantly seeking out experts in signal processing to help develop the latest product or platform. These are the growth industries of the modern economy – and signal processing is the growth skillset in these fields.

Redline’s DSP – digital signal processing jobs are handled by experts with a knowledge-led approach to technical and electronics recruitment. Working with a broad variety of clients in some of the fastest moving industry segments for DSP jobs including algorithm development, electronic hardware jobs, FPGA / ASIC implementation, software and systems engineering jobs, Redline are an established technical recruitment agency who are perfectly positioned to find the right permanent or contract DSP job for your next career move.