Embedded system

Embedded system


An embedded system is a computer system designed to perform one or a few dedicated functions, often with real-time computing constraints. It is embedded as part of a complete device often including hardware and mechanical parts. In contrast, a general-purpose computer, such as a personal computer, is designed to be flexible and to meet a wide range of an end-user's needs. Embedded systems control many of the common devices in use today.

Since the embedded system is dedicated to specific tasks, design engineers can optimize it, reducing the size and cost of the product, or increasing the reliability and performance. Some embedded systems are mass-produced, benefiting from economies of scale.

In the given term paper I m going to discuss some basic concepts of embedded system which includes in detail the small note on General introduction, History, Characterstics of embedded systems and after that applications of embedded systems


In general, an Embedded System:

• Is a system built to perform its duty, completely or partially independent of human intervention.

• Is specially designed to perform a few tasks in the most efficient way.

• Interacts with physical elements in our environment, viz. controlling and driving a motor, sensing temperature, etc.

An embedded system can be defined as a control system or computer system designed to perform a specific task. Common examples of embedded systems include MP3 players, navigation systems on aircraft and intruder alarm systems. An embedded system can also be defined as a single purpose computer.

Most embedded systems are time critical applications meaning that the embedded system is working in an environment where timing is very important: the results of an operation are only relevant if they take place in a specific time frame. An autopilot in an aircraft is a time critical embedded system. If the autopilot detects that the plane for some reason is going into a stall then it should take steps to correct this within milliseconds or there would be catastrophic results.


In the earliest years of computers in the 1930-40s, computers were sometimes dedicated to a single task, but were far too large and expensive for most kinds of tasks performed by embedded computers of today. Over time however, the concept of programmable controllers evolved from traditional electromechanical sequencers, via solid state devices, to the use of computer technology.

One of the first recognizably modern embedded systems was the Apollo Guidance Computer, developed by Charles Stark Draper at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. At the project's inception, the Apollo guidance computer was considered the riskiest item in the Apollo project as it employed the then newly developed monolithic integrated circuits to reduce the size and weight. An early mass-produced embedded system was the Autonetics D-17 guidance computer for the Minuteman missile, released in 1961. It was built from transistor logic and had a hard disk for main memory. When the Minuteman II went into production in 1966, the D-17 was replaced with a new computer that was the first high-volume use of integrated circuits. This program alone reduced prices on quad nand gate ICs from $1000/each to $3/each, permitting their use in commercial products.

Since these early applications in the 1960s, embedded systems have come down in price and there has been a dramatic rise in processing power and functionality. The first microprocessor for example, the Intel 4004, was designed for calculators and other small systems but still required many external memory and support chips. In 1978 National Engineering Manufacturers Association released a "standard" for programmable microcontrollers, including almost any computer-based controllers, such as single board computers, numerical, and event-based controllers.

As the cost of microprocessors and microcontrollers fell it became feasible to replace expensive knob-based analog components such as potentiometers and variable capacitors with up/down buttons or knobs read out by a microprocessor even in some consumer products. By the mid-1980s, most of the common previously external system components had been integrated into the same chip as the processor and this modern form of the microcontroller allowed an even more widespread use, which by the end of the decade were the norm rather than the exception for almost all electronics devices.

The integration of microcontrollers has further increased the applications for which embedded systems are used into areas where traditionally a computer would not have been considered. A general purpose and comparatively low-cost microcontroller may often be programmed to fulfill the same role as a large number of separate components. Although in this context an embedded system is usually more complex than a traditional solution, most of the complexity is contained within the microcontroller itself. Very few additional components may be needed and most of the design effort is in the software. The intangible nature of software makes it much easier to prototype and test new revisions compared with the design and construction of a new circuit not using an embedded processor.

What are Embedded Systems Used For

The uses of embedded systems are virtually limitless, because every day new products are introduced to the market that utilize embedded computers in novel ways. In recent years, hardware such as microprocessors, microcontrollers, and FPGA chips have become much cheaper. So when implementing a new form of control, it's wiser to just buy the generic chip and write your own custom software for it. Producing a custom-made chip to handle a particular task or set of tasks costs far more time and money. Many embedded computers even come with extensive libraries, so that "writing your own software" becomes a very trivial task indeed.

From an implementation viewpoint, there is a major difference between a computer and an embedded system. Embedded systems are often required to provide Real-Time response. A Real-Time system is defined as a system whose correctness depends on the timeliness of its response. Examples of such systems are flight control systems of an aircraft, sensor systems in nuclear reactors and power plants. For these systems, delay in response is a fatal error. A more relaxed version of Real-Time Systems, is the one where timely response with small delays is acceptable. Example of such a system would be the Scheduling Display System on the railway platforms. In technical terminology, Real-Time Systems can be classified as:

• Hard Real-Time Systems - systems with severe constraints on the timeliness of the response.

• Soft Real-Time Systems - systems which tolerate small variations in response times.

• Hybrid Real-Time Systems - systems which exhibit both hard and soft constraints on its performance


1. Embedded systems are designed to do some specific task, rather than be a general-purpose computer for multiple tasks. Some also have real-time performance constraints that must be met, for reasons such as safety and usability; others may have low or no performance requirements, allowing the system hardware to be simplified to reduce costs.

2. Embedded systems are not always standalone devices. Many embedded systems consist of small, computerized parts within a larger device that serves a more general purpose. For example, the Gibson Robot Guitar features an embedded system for tuning the strings, but the overall purpose of the Robot Guitar is, of course, to play music. Similarly, an embedded system in an automobile provides a specific function as a subsystem of the car itself.

3. The program instructions written for embedded systems are referred to as firmware, and are stored in read-only memory or Flash memory chips. They run with limited computer hardware resources: little memory, small or non-existent keyboard and/or screen.

Embedded software architectures

A general embedded system modal is shown below which contain a hardware layer ,system software layer and after that application software layer.

The above architecture represents a hypothetical Embedded System (we will see more realistic ones in subsequent examples). More than one microprocessor (2 DSPs and 1 μC) are employed here to carry out different tasks. As we will learn later, the μC is generally meant for simpler and slower jobs such as carrying out a Proportional Integral (PI) control action or interpreting the user commands etc. The DSP is a more heavy duty processor capable of doing real time signal processing and control. Both the DSPs along with their operating systems and codes are independent of each other. They share the same memory without interfering with each other. This kind of memory is known as dual ported memory or two-way post-box memory. The Real Time Operating System (RTOS) controls the timing requirement of all the devices. It executes the over all control algorithm of the process while diverting more complex tasks to the DSPs. It also specifically controls the μC for the necessary user interactivity. The ASICs are specialized units capable of specialized functions such as motor control, voice encoding, modulation/demodulation (MODEM) action etc. They can be digital, analog or mixed signal VLSI circuits. CODECs are generally used for interfacing low power serial Analog-to-Digital Converters (ADCs). The analog signals from the controlled process can be monitored through an ADC interfaced through this CODEC.

Structure of an Embedded System

The typical structure of an embedded system is shown in 1.4. This can be compared with that of a Desktop Computer as shown in 1.5. Normally in an embedded system the primary memory, central processing unit and many peripheral components including analog-to-digital converters are housed on a single chip. These single chips are called as Microcontrollers.

On the other hand a desktop computer may contain all these units on a single Power Circuit Board (PCB) called as the Mother Board. Since these computers handle much larger dimension of data as compared to the embedded systems there has to be elaborate arrangements for storage and faster data transfer between the CPU and memory, CPU and input/output devices and memory and input/output devices. The storage is accomplished by cheaper secondary memories like Hard Disks and CDROM drives. The data transfer process is improved by incorporating multi-level cache and direct memory access methods. Generally no such arrangements are necessary for embedded systems. Because of the number of heterogeneous components in a desktop computer the power supply is required at multiple voltage-levels (typically ±12, ± 5, ± 3, 25 volts). On the other hand an Embedded Systems chip may just need one level DC power supply (typically +5V).

In a desktop computer various units operate at different speeds. Even the units inside a typical CPU such as Pentium-IV may operate at different speeds. The timing and control units are complex and provide multi-phase clock signal to the CPU and other peripherals at different voltage levels. The timing and control unit for an Embedded system may be much simpler.

It is apparent from the above example that a typical embedded system consist of by and large the following units housed on a single board or chip.

1. Processor

2. Memory

3. Input/Output interface chips

4. I/O Devices including Sensors and Actuators

5. A-D and D-A converters

6. Software as operating system

7. Application Software

One or more of the above units can be housed on a single PCB or single chip


Embedded Systems talk with the outside world via peripherals, such as:

* Serial Communication Interfaces (SCI): RS-232, RS-422, RS-485 etc

* Synchronous Serial Communication Interface: I2C, SPI, SSC and ESSI (Enhanced Synchronous Serial Interface)

* Universal Serial Bus (USB)

* Multi Media Cards (SD Cards, Compact Flash etc)

* Networks: Ethernet, Controller Area Network, LonWorks, etc

* Timers: PLL(s), Capture/Compare and Time Processing Units

* Discrete IO: aka General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO)

* Analog to Digital/Digital to Analog (ADC/DAC)

* Debugging: JTAG, ISP, ICSP, BDM Port.

CPU platforms

Embedded processors can be broken into two broad categories: ordinary microprocessors (μP) and microcontrollers (μC), which have many more peripherals on chip, reducing cost and size. Contrasting to the personal computer and server markets, a fairly large number of basic CPU architectures are used; there are Von Neumann as well as various degrees of Harvard architectures, RISC as well as non-RISC and VLIW; word lengths vary from 4-bit to 64-bits and beyond (mainly in DSP processors) although the most typical remain 8/16-bit. Most architectures come in a large number of different variants and shapes, many of which are also manufactured by several different companies.

A long but still not exhaustive list of common architectures are: 65816, 65C02, 68HC08, 68HC11, 68k, 8051, ARM, AVR, AVR32, Blackfin, C167, Coldfire, COP8, eZ8, eZ80, FR-V, H8, HT48, M16C, M32C, MIPS, MSP430, PIC, PowerPC, R8C, SHARC, ST6, SuperH, TLCS-47, TLCS-870, TLCS-900, Tricore, V850, x86, XE8000, Z80, AsAP etc.

User interface

Embedded system text user interface using MicroVGA

Embedded systems range from no user interface at all — dedicated only to one task — to complex graphical user interfaces that resemble modern computer desktop operating systems. Simple embedded devices use buttons, LEDs, graphic or character LCDs (for example popular HD44780 LCD) with a simple menu system.

A more sophisticated devices use graphical screen with touch sensing or screen-edge buttons provide flexibility while minimizing space used: the meaning of the buttons can change with the screen, and selection involves the natural behavior of pointing at what's desired. Handheld systems often have a screen with a "joystick button" for a pointing device.

Some systems provide user interface remotely with the help of serial (e.g. RS-232, USB) or network (e.g. Ethernet) connection. In spite of installed client software and cables are needed this approach usually gives a lot of advantages: extends the capabilities of embedded system, avoids the cost of a display, simplifies BSP, allows to build reach user interface on PC. One of the well established model in this direction is the combination of embedded web server running on embedded device and user interface in web browser on PC (typical for IP cameras and network routers).


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. Therefore the software is usually developed and tested more carefully than that for personal computers, and unreliable mechanical moving parts such as disk drives, switches or buttons are avoided.

Specific reliability issues may include:

1. The system cannot safely be shut down for repair, or it is too inaccessible to repair. Examples include space systems, undersea cables, navigational beacons, bore-hole systems, and automobiles.

2. The system must be kept running for safety reasons. "Limp modes" are less tolerable. Often backups are selected by an operator. Examples include aircraft navigation, reactor control systems, safety-critical chemical factory controls, train signals, engines on single-engine aircraft.

3. The system will lose large amounts of money when shut down: Telephone switches, factory controls, bridge and elevator controls, funds transfer and market making, automated sales and service.

A variety of techniques are used, sometimes in combination, to recover from errors—both software bugs such as memory leaks, and also soft errors in the hardware:

* watchdog timer that resets the computer unless the software periodically notifies the watchdog

* subsystems with redundant spares that can be switched over to

* software "limp modes" that provide partial function

* Designing with a Trusted Computing Base (TCB) architecture ensures a highly secure & reliable system environment

* An Embedded Hypervisor is able to provide secure encapsulation for any subsystem component, so that a compromised software component cannot interfere with other subsystems, or privileged-level system software. This encapsulation keeps faults from propagating from one subsystem to another, improving reliability. This may also allow a subsystem to be automatically shut down and restarted on fault detection.

* Immunity Aware Programming

Applications of embedded system

Some of the common examples of Embedded Systems are given below:

Consumer electronics cell phones, pagers, digital cameras, camcorders, DVD players.

Some Downfalls of Embedded Computers

Embedded computers may be economical, but they are often prone to some very specific problems. A PC computer may ship with a glitch in the software, and once discovered, a software patch can often be shipped out to fix the problem. An embedded system, however, is frequently programmed once, and the software cannot be patched. Even if it is possible to patch faulty software on an embedded system, the process is frequently far too complicated for the user.

Another problem with embedded computers is that they are often installed in systems for which unreliability is not an option. For instance, the computer controlling the brakes in your car cannot be allowed to fail under any condition. The targeting computer in a missile is not allowed to fail and accidentally target friendly units. As such, many of the programming techniques used when throwing together production software cannot be used in embedded systems. Reliability must be guaranteed before the chip leaves the factory. This means that every embedded system needs to be tested and analyzed extensively.

An embedded system will have very few resources when compared to full blown computing systems like a desktop computer, the memory capacity and processing power in an embedded system is limited. It is more challenging to develop an embedded system when compared to developing an application for a desktop system as we are developing a program for a very constricted environment. Some embedded systems run a scaled down version of operating system called an RTOS (real time operating system).


The uses of embedded systems are virtually limitless, because every day new products are introduced to the market that utilize embedded computers in novel ways .so we can says that the electronics products without the embedded systems can not possible to operate so embedded systems become one of our daily needs


[1] Richard Bohuslav Kosik , “Digital ignition & Electronic fuel injection” Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering The University of Queensland, Australia, Bachelor's Thesis, October 2000

[2] Frank Vahid, Tony Givargis, “Embedded System Design, A Unified Hardware/Software Introduction”,John Wiley and Sons Inc, 2002

[3] Wayne Wolf, “ Computers as Components”, Morgan Kaufmann, Harcourt India,2001

[4] A.M Fox, J.E. Cooling, N.S. Cooling, “Integrated Design approach for real time embedded systems”, Proc. IEE-Softw., Vo.146, No.2., April 1999, page 75-85.

[5] Phen Edwards, Luciano Lavagno, Dward A. Lee.Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli ,“Design of Embedded Systems: Formal Models, Validatin, and Synthesis”, PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEEE, VOL. 85, NO. 3, MARCH 1997, page-366-390

[6] J.A. Debardelaben, V. K. Madisetti, A. J. Gadeint, “Incorporating Cost Modeling in Embedded-System

Please be aware that the free essay that you were just reading was not written by us. This essay, and all of the others available to view on the website, were provided to us by students in exchange for services that we offer. This relationship helps our students to get an even better deal while also contributing to the biggest free essay resource in the UK!