As computers (and sensors) get smaller, smarter and connected, our everyday objects, from clothing to lavatories to cars, get more intelligent. By so doing embedded software is essential to the operation of today’s smart devices.
Embedded systems control many devices in common use today. Ninety-eight percent of all microprocessors are manufactured as components of embedded systems. Manufacturers ‘build in’ embedded software in the electronics of e.g. cars, telephones, modems, robots, appliances, toys, security systems, pacemakers, televisions and set-top boxes, and digital watches, for example.
Embedded systems are not always standalone devices. Many embedded systems consist of small parts within a larger device that serves a more general purpose.
Specifics of embedded development:
- The development of embedded systems requires a good combination of industry knowledge, up-to-date technology expertise and excellent quality and project management skills.
- Programmers spend nearly all of their time using their embedded software development environment, which is an integrated collection of software development tools that manage the entire embedded software development process: analyzing, designing, documenting, writing, compiling, debugging, testing, optimizing, and verifying software. The choice of an embedded software development environment is the most important determinant of the productivity and effectiveness of programmers.
- Today’s embedded systems development spans sensor, device, gateway, and cloud. This dramatically increases the complexity of development, troubleshooting, and fault isolation.
- Unlike smartphones and personal computers, which sells in millions, most embedded products such as ECG machines, PoS machines, Laboratory and Test equipment, Ticket vending machines, etc. have low sales volume.
- Furthermore, the product life of embedded devices ranges to 7+ years in contrast to the 15-18 months life for smartphones and to 4-6 years life for laptops. Due to this limited sales volume and long product life, custom or chip-based development of embedded devices adds significant overheads in terms of supply chain inefficiencies, platform obsolescence, non-optimal cost structure, and barriers to adopt latest technologies.
Embedded vs. application software development
Embedded software development
Application software development
Embedded software is physically part of a device, loaded by the manufacturer, and cannot be changed or removed by the user.
Application software is an optional program that the user chooses, installs and can remove.
It’s important to consider not only algorithm performance, but also the overall system robustness, reliability, and cost in the architecture and design. It’s closely associated with hardware manufacturing. You can’t write embedded software in your bedroom and unleash it on the world. Either you make a device yourself, or you work for someone who does.
Application software is similar and different. You can do it for yourself or for The Man, with the difference that no manufacturing is involved so there is much less capital outlay.
Embedded software however is often less visible, but no less complicated. Unlike application software, embedded software has fixed hardware requirements and capabilities, addition of third-party hardware or software is strictly controlled. To manage quality risk, as well as to meet tighter standards for software certification, embedded software engineers need to leverage software simulation tools and certified code generators.
Application software is usually less complex than embedded devices. It has more flexible requirements and solutions.
Embedded systems often reside in machines that are expected to run continuously for years without errors and in some cases recover by themselves if an error occurs. Unreliable mechanical moving parts such as disk drives, switches or buttons are avoided.
Therefore the application software for personal computers is usually developed and tested less scrupulously.
Embedded software may use no operating system, or when they do use, a wide variety of operating systems can be chosen from, typically a real-time operating system. This runs from small one-person operations consisting of a run loop and a timer, to LynxOS, VxWorks, BeRTOS, ThreadX, to Windows CE or Linux (with patched kernel).
Standard computers generally use operating systems such as OS X, Windows or GNU/Linux.
Hot trends for Embedded s/w development: Big Data, Internet of Things, Connected Cars and Homes
The amount of data that’s being created and stored on a global level is almost inconceivable, and it just keeps growing, yet only a small percentage of data is actually analyzed.
The importance of BD doesn’t revolve around how much data you have, but what you do with it. You can take data from any source and analyze it to find answers that enable cost and time reductions, new product development and optimized offerings, and smart decision making. When you combine big data with high-powered analytics, you can accomplish business-related tasks such as:
- Determining root causes of failures, issues and defects in near-real time.
- Generating coupons at the point of sale based on the customer’s buying habits.
- Recalculating entire risk portfolios in minutes.
- Detecting fraudulent behavior before it affects your organization.
Big data affects organizations across practically every industry, from Banking, Education and Government to Health Care and Retail industry, etc.
- The Internet of Things is yet another ubiquitous word in the world of embedded technologies. The core of IoT is the availability of the application or thing and its data to be a connectable ecosystem.
- For example, the Connected Home also known as the Smart Home, uses modern automation systems to provide a practical way of controlling electronic devices in the home. Connected Homes technology can include but is not limited to the scheduling and automatic operation of heating, security systems and lighting. This advanced technology allows these vital home functions to be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world using an internet connected device.
- The race to build the fully Connected Car, and ultimately the completely Autonomous vehicle, is also under way. Drivers around the world are getting used to the increasing amount of digital technology in their cars. Many of the normal features of the car such as monitors of performance data like speed, fuel efficiency, and gas tank levels; heating and air conditioning; and the audio system — all have been digitized in hopes of providing the driver with easier operation and better information. And the car, including smartphones and other devices carried onboard by drivers and passengers now reaches out to the surrounding world for music streamed from the cloud, real-time traffic information, and personalized roadside assistance. Recent innovations allow automobiles to monitor and adjust their position on the highway, alerting drivers if they are drifting out of their lane, and slowing down if they get too close to the car in front of them.
Naturally, smart homes, smart cars, and other connected products won’t just be aimed at home and private life. They’ll also have a major impact on business.
We’re just beginning to imagine the possibilities of embedded systems. Innovations in sensors, big data, and machine learning now make it possible for engineering teams to develop smarter and more autonomous systems that have the potential to dramatically improve designs and create new categories of products and services previously unimaginable.
Embedded software engineers develop embedded hardware and software solutions, custom-made for applications in various target markets. With capabilities that span the complete system and software lifecycle, Altabel Group is placed to manage entire projects from start to finish, working closely with customers to understand their needs and deliver excellent results. For more information on our work in the industry, please click here.
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