The Mil & Aero Blog
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
  Ghosts of embedded computing past: it's about time Curtiss-Wright pulled up stakes and found new digs

Posted by John Keller

AUGUST 11, 2010 Executives at Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing, at long last, are stepping out from the shadows of their past and are relocating to a new headquarters in the Washington, D.C. suburbs -- to a place with no connection to the company's past as it rose to become one of the dominant suppliers of rugged embedded computing components and systems for aerospace and defense.

Curtiss-Wright has finished moving a couple of miles east of its longtime headquarters in Leesburg, Va., to Ashburn, Va. I wonder why this move didn't happen sooner. Not that there's anything wrong with Leesburg and those just-vacated offices, but that facility has a long and storied history. There are ghosts in that place that I'm sure Curtiss-Wright people had mixed feelings about leaving behind.

The new 31,000-square-foot Curtiss-Wright facility, company officials say, has 50 percent more space than the old Leesburg site, and has room for as many as 100 employees. Room for growth; that's great. Still, the best thing about the move, I think, is the company is finally leaving the old Ixthos Inc. facility behind.

Some of us who have been around this business long enough (and you know who you are) remember Ixthos as a scrappy, innovative embedded digital signal processing company, which started in Leesburg in 1991 with larger-than-life Jeff Milrod in charge. This was back in the days of dedicated digital signal processors from companies like Texas Instruments, Intel Corp., and Analog Devices -- back before the first PowerPC processors stepped in to take over a lot of that DSP work.

I remember visiting Milrod at the Leesburg offices back in the early '90s. Really tough DSP programming scared a lot of smart people back then, but not Milrod. He was fearless in his use of some of the first Analog Devices SHARC DSPs in tacking difficult radar, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence applications. This was back in the days when the SHARC was lovingly described as "not human-friendly."

Well, one thing led to another and Ixthos was acquired in 1997 by Dy 4 Systems of Kanata (now Ottawa), Ontario. Milrod, meanwhile, took his DSP work with him and moved up to Concord, N.H., to a company that's still around, BittWare Inc. Milrod's company still specializes in tough DSP problems, but does it these days with field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) instead of the old DSPs.

For a while, under Dy 4's leadership, the Leesburg site was primarily a satellite of the main Dy 4 action in Canada. I think Leesburg is where Dy 4 stashed its mad scientists, but that's another story. At any rate, the Leesburg facility was pretty quiet for a while, that is, until early 2004 when Dy 4 was acquired by Curtiss-Wright -- a company that burst on the embedded computing scene in 2001 when it acquired what was then Vista Controls in Santa Clarita, Calif.

The year 2004, it's no understatement, was a transformative year for the U.S. embedded computing industry -- particularly where military and aerospace applications were concerned. The Dy 4 acquisition elevated Curtiss-Wright from a serious player to a dominant player in embedded computing. Coincidentally, 2004 also thrust Leesburg back into the center of things, as Curtiss-Wright made the place its headquarters of Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing, where it has remained until the move to Ashburn.

So the move is a good one, particularly for the corporate identity of Curtiss-Wright Embedded. No longer is the company's Virginia headquarters the old Ixthos, and no longer is it the old Dy 4. Now Curtiss-Wright Embedded starts out fresh, with a headquarters that's all Curtiss-Wright.
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